The majority of animals that travel in cars are dogs and sometimes cats. Dogs are especially a great travel companion and it can be great to take pets on holidays and outings. Some pets love a road trip and time with their human, others find the car a bit daunting. If you happen to have the latter, here is some advice to make the trip smooth and enjoyable for everyone.

Some common travel anxiety signs;

  • Gets car sick
  • Does not settle down
  • Pants and appears to be in distress
  • Wets itself, you and the car when you pick it up and take it to the car
  • Drooling, whining, pacing
  • Wide-eyed, lip-licking
  • Changed body posture or hunched back
  • Tight facial muscles and lips pulled back

Desensitizing Anxious Pets to Enjoy Travelling in Cars

The best time to start preparing pets for enjoying car rides is when they are young. Where possible try to ensure some car rides result in a positive experience. Pets whose car rides are limited to trips to the vet, as much as vet staff will try to keep the experience positive sometimes it won’t be and your pet associates travelling with getting a vaccination or other experience. If they don’t appreciate a vet visit, why would they appreciate a trip in the car?

Prevention for your young pet

  1. Take your pet calmly to your parked car and do not turn on the engine.
  2. Decide where the pet would be sitting when travelling and sit next to it.
  3. Whatever your pet loves from treats, praises or treats, give it to the pet for a few minutes and leave the car.
  4. After doing the above a few times, place the pet on the same place and sit behind the car wheel while the pet remains where it should be. Toss treats to the pet and praise it for being calm.
  5. Next time when you sit with the pet in the car, turn the car on for a few moments and turn it off again. If your pet gets distressed, toss a treat immediately. Keep increasing the period that the engine runs and always ensure you praise your pet while tossing treats too.
  6. Your pet might start showing distress and anxious, but you must remain calm to show it everything is perfectly in order and nothing to fear.
  7. If you have a driveway, start to back out only in the driveway and pull back in, while praising and giving treats.
  8. Try go around the block before doing longer trips with heavy traffic and cars honking.
  9. Take the pet to a place where fun things happen like parks or open spaces that they learn fun things happen during travels.

Counter Conditioning Anxious Pets

While young pets have never been in a car and need to be introduced to something new such, older pets might have a pre-existing bad car ride experience. If there is a strong anxiety it will take longer to progress through the below steps. Take your time and gently train your pet.

Things you should avoid doing:

  • Don’t rush your pet
  • Don’t force it into the car
  • Don’t use leash pressure
  • Don’t lure it with treats or toys
  • Don’t allow the pet on your lap while driving

Behavior Modification to Stop Anxiety

Slow Start:

When your pet suffers from extreme anxiety associated with travelling, start outside the car. Move closer to the car without forcing the pet and when it looks at the car, praise and reward it. Wherever it moves closer to the parked car, do the same. If it has a ball or toy it loves to play with, do it in the vicinity of the car. Do it daily even if it takes weeks.

Confidence Building:

At some point keep the car doors open and repeat the above but give the pet high-value rewards. Don’t force it into or towards the car as you want it to choose to move towards the open door but keep rewards high.

Continued Progress Rewarding:

Remain patient until it shows confidence to approach the open door and you can at this point get into the car yourself. If it is a small pet and it shows signs that it wants to enter, pick it up. Any pet that touches the car with its paws or jumps in must get a high-value treat and significant praise. Continue to build confidence until it shows no signs of wanting to jump out.

Building Duration:

The time spent sitting in the car with the engine turned off should gradually increase and when you play soothing music and giving it what it really loves, the bad association turns to a positive experience.

If Your Pet Is Getting Car Sick

Car sickness is common in puppies more than adult animals. Any dog that gets car sick could develop travel anxiety. You will find that puppies with motion sickness will outgrow it around 12- 18 months old. Car sickness doesn’t bode well for the pet as it builds that negative association with the car and anxiety will increase when they travel by car.

Preventative Measures:

It is unknown why puppies tend to get motion sickness more than adults, but many reasons that it is because puppies and small animals cannot see out the window. In this case, try a travel booster seat to give them more security. Speak to you veterinarian to recommend supplements and/or medication that will help your pet. Also, some popular tips are;

  • Make sure your pet travels on an empty stomach and ensure it is hydrated.
  • Always drive with your windows cracked open a bit for freshly circulated air.
  • Make frequent stops and allow them to do their business and stretch their legs

Final Thoughts

The pet needs to associate travelling with time spent with you and your family and as a fun experience. Keep in mind that with the above conditioning steps its best to avoid extremely cold or hot days. Take your pet to places like the pet store, dog parks and things you know it will love. Do it often and increase the distances as you go along. Even when you go to the same place, take progressively longer and different routes. Soon the anxiety with dissipate and you will struggle to keep the pet out of the car to go to work.