If the mere sound of your keys starting the ignition sends chills down your pet's spine, it’s time to work on preventing car anxiety. Your pup may suffer from car anxiety if he shows signs of carsickness, barking, whining, pacing, scratching and restlessness. These symptoms are not only harmful to your pet and vehicle but they also cause hazardous driving conditions for all travelers on the road. Help keep your pet and yourself happy and healthy by easing his fears of car travel.
Start by taking “practice” rounds in the car without actually going anywhere. To get your pup comfortable in your vehicle, place a few treats on the car seat for him to sniff and eat. Once he is a little more relaxed, place a few more treats farther into the car so that your pooch has to jump in to reach the treats. The goal of this step is to get Fido comfortable with the idea of being in the vehicle. No need to start the engine yet.
Once your pup has mastered the art of sitting in the car, start getting him used to your chosen safety carrier. Whether you plan on keeping your pup in a crate while traveling or strapping him to the seat with a car harness, start getting him used to the travel routine. If choosing the kennel or carrier route, put treats in the crate to show your pup it’s a safe place where fun things happen. If you are harnessing your pup to a seat belt, use the same positive reinforcement methods while calming him into the seat.
Now that we have Fido comfortably and safely stowed for travel, it's time to start your engines. As you put the key in the ignition, continue to verbally reinforce your pooch and use a treat or two to help. Take your time and make sure your pet is calm and collected before proceeding to additional steps like backing up the car and actually going for a drive. Follow the same rules for every step in the process, making sure that you reinforce only calm and quiet behavior.
Don’t forget to keep a calm and patient demeanor. Many owners make the mistake of giving up right in the middle of training and start giving treats simply to hush their puppies. Keep up the progress you have made by practicing patience and only reinforcing the behaviors you want to see. Resist giving treats and praise to calm anxious behaviors. If your pet begins to regress, simply start over from step one and try again.
For pets that suffer from separation anxiety in addition to car anxiety, clothes might help. This pertains to lap dogs who show anxiety when they are not sitting on or next to their parent. Trying anxiety clothing options like a Thundershirt may help your pup feel secure and calm, much like swaddling a baby. Toys and blankets may help as well. Try to re-create a safe environment in the vehicle by keeping a clothing item or piece of cloth or toy that reminds him of you and his comfy surroundings at home.
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