How To Soothe A Carsick Dog

Most dogs and puppies are hesitant or reluctant when introduced to new situations and new places. This is a normal reaction – part of their survival instinct! Our job as their owner is to teach them that new places can be fun, or at least tolerable.

Carsick dog

The first place an owner should visit after bringing the puppy home is a veterinarian of their choice. The overall good health of the puppy needs to be determined at this time. This is also a good time to start a POSITIVE relationship with the veterinarian, his/her staff, AND the office overall. Find a small, easy to chew treat that doesn’t upset puppy’s stomach (SMALL hot dog bits, Bil Jack treats, Pounce cat treats, some other treat that is small & chewy). These treats will ONLY be available to puppy when encountering a “scary” situation. Give a couple treats to the veterinarian to give to the puppy. Give a couple treats to the technician to give to the puppy and likewise any other staff or people he encounters. He gets the treats when he approaches the person, but NOT when he hides, and NOT as a lure to get him out of hiding. As puppy realizes treats come from all the people at the vet’s, he will become happy and eager to return.

If your dog continues to be fearful and suspicious in subsequent visits, continue bringing treats and have ONLY the staff give them ( NONE from you!). Make extra visits to the vet when you do NOT have an appointment (call ahead to make sure they aren’t too busy!) to have people give treats and cheerful encouragement. Never, EVER stroke your dog and pet him and use what you feel is a reassuring voice to tell him: “It’s OK, Rover! They’re trying to be nice to you! It’s alright!” When you do that, you are reinforcing his fear: you are giving him all the praise signals that tell him his behavior is EXACTLY what you want!! (soft voice, quiet petting, etc.). Instead, with a fearful dog, he will only get a treat OR petting OR both, when he acts less fearful and approaches. Sometimes a favorite toy will get the puppy to forget his fear a little and “loosen up” a bit. Fearful puppies may also try to climb on or claw at their owner in seeming desperation of the situation. This should not be allowed or praised! Inadvertant praise for this can be something as simple as using your hands to gently remove him from your body. Instead us his leash and don’t touch him at all, or turn away, or stand up.

ANY time your dog goes to a new and potentially “scary” place, BE PREPARED!! These places can include: veterinarian, groomer, boarding kennel, pet store, friend’s house, park with other dogs, etc. ALWAYS have your dog ON LEASH – no leash = NO control! Have your “special” treats always handy, and give them to people to give to your dog appropriately.

If your dog is not used to or does not tolerate car rides, then he is already worked up even BEFORE he arrives at his new destination. EARLY and frequent exposure to car rides can make the transportation aspect a WHOLE lot easier. Dogs (and cats!) quickly learn to HATE car rides if they only go to the vet or to the groomer.

The SAFEST way to travel with your dog is in a crate or with a seatbelt. I like to use the plastic enclosed crates (Vari-Kennel or Furrari, for example), because they contain the hair, dirt, drool, and any accidents that might happen. Seat belts allow a little more freedom, but don’t allow the dog to run all over the car. Dog seat belts are sized to fit, and can be found at most pet stores (RC Steele catalog also carries them). Both will protect your dog should you have to stop fast or (God forbid) get into an accident.

A Remedy For Carsick Dogs

Dogs travelling, especially those who tend to get carsick should not eat 6 to 12 hours prior to travel.

Below is a desensitization program to help your dog get over his carsickness:

  • Put dog in car, parked in driveway. Have a desirable to or tennis ball for him to play a little with. Leave car after a couple of minutes. Do this several times a day for several days to a week, depending on how successful the dog is at not getting sick. Increase the time in the car each day (as long as he doesn’t get sick).
  • Put dog in car, car parked with engine running. Repeat for several days to a week, length of time in car increasing again from a short time to longer, as long as dog doesn’t get sick.
  • Put dog in car, idling in driveway, move car down and back up the driveway. This stage may best be done with two people: one to drive, and one to handle dog. Do this stage several days to a week. Perhaps you can end up driving the car up and down the driveway several times before moving to the next stage. (Your neighbors will wonder WHAT you are doing!!)
  • Take the car around the block ONCE – QUIT. Do this several days in a row, then try to go around TWICE.
  • NOTE: ALWAYS back up to the step before if you get any sickness or drooling (sign of nausea!) at all, and work in smaller increments toward the next step, and take a longer time getting there. The object her is to do as MUCH as you can with NO sickness!
  • Take the car to a close convenience store or dry cleaners or such. Leave him in the car (with your helper, especially if he has any tendency toward panic or destruction), come back, drive home.

I think you have the idea, now. This process can take a week or 2 months, depending on the dog! Some dogs may never get over carsickness.

The A-Z Guide To Dog & Puppy Training