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Dog Behaviour >>TRAVEL AND YOUR PET

Pet owners often dread travelling with their pet.  Constant meowing, accidents, drooling, howling or barking, shivering and shaking are all common complaints.  Some pets will also suffer from motion sickness. 

For those suffering from motion sickness, discuss the problem with your veterinarian.  There are a few medications for pets with motion sickness that can be considered.

Most often, pets react badly to travel because they are either terrified or excited.  The best thing would be to consult your veterinarian or a behaviourist to determine the cause.  They can formulate a more specific for your pet.
I’ll go through the basics for you’re here.

  • First, you have to figure out when the fear is starting.  Sometimes these pets are nervous before going out the door while others only get nervous when you approach the vehicle.  For cats, often they need kennel training before you can start the process.
  • Once you have determined where the fear starts, you need to start a program to retrain the pet to be relaxed. 
  • Begin in an area that is just before the area where the fear starts.  Ask your dog for a sit or for a cat just ask them to be quiet and relaxed and give treats.  Be calm and relaxed.  For dogs, do a series of sits or downs rewarding each with a treat and releasing between but coming back to the spot you chose.  Do a few 2 minute sessions a couple times/day each time moving about a foot closer to the problem area.
  • Watch the pets for signs of stress.   This could include:
    • inability to do the desired commands or doing them more slowly than normal
    • licking the nose
    • looking timid
    • shivering or shaking
    • not wanting to come closer
    • freezing up

If you notice any of the above signs, you’ve progressed too quickly.  Go back a step or two and progress more slowly.

  • Continue progressing over several days until you can get the pet in the vehicle.  Then just sit there and feed treats if the pet is reasonably relaxed.  If they aren’t relaxed, just read a book or do some work and reward the pet when it calms.
  • Continue this until the pet is happy and comfortable in the car.
  • Then, turn the car on and off several times while an assistant monitors the pet and give treats if they are calm.  Repeat several times a day for a few days.
  • Progress to letting the car run for a minute or two again with assistant monitoring and rewarding only if the pet is calm and relaxed.
  • Progress to backing in and out of the driveway.  It will really confuse your neighbours!
  • Once the pet is relaxed with this then do a drive around the block.
  • Progress to drives to the dog park or a friends place and then the dog can have a play or the cat can have a visit and treats (choose friends without cats for now).
  • Progress to short trips to the pet store where the clerks might be willing to ask your dog to sit and feed a treat. Also call your veterinary clinic and see if you can drop in and again, have them ask the dog to sit and feed a treat.
  • Make the car a pet friendly environment while travelling.  For cats, you may need a separate kennel with a litter box.  Don’t play loud music.  If you like classical music it has been shown to have a calming effect on pets.   

If your pet has a very high anxiety level your veterinarian may consider doing baseline bloodwork and prescribing antianxiety medications.  Sometimes these pets are so anxious that it affects their ability to learn.  The medications can take a few months to work but can be very effective when paired with behaviour modification.  After a few months of good behaviour then the pet can be weaned off the medications.  These medications can have side effects that you can discuss with your veterinarian.   If you are reading this and travelling soon, there are drugs that can be given short term that may help with the behaviour.  Your veterinarian can decide whether these are safe for your pet based on the physical exam and possibly some blood tests.

Hoping you have a great and peaceful trip. 

Other Resources:

If you didn’t read the kennel training handout you may not have seen this video clip (note the section where the dog jumps into one of the soft travel kennels).  The exercises used here with the crate can also be played (with your pet on a leash or harness) to get your dog or cat into the car! This will make it very fun!

http://www.clickerdogs.com/crate_games.php