Yes, we’ve been on a hiatus for a few days! Thanks a lot for missing us. We missed you all too. But we were back now; and we’re back from – wait for it – wait for it – A ROAD TRIP!
Hitting the road to head to a new place in the midst of nature is an enormously exciting and cathartic experience for hoomans and dogs alike. A visit to a new place, the smells of it, the sights and sounds of the new environs and the feel of the fresh terrain under their paws brings out the natural explorer instincts of a dog that go dormant with the mostly sedentary apartment lifestyle of urban India! But before you hop in the car with your buddy and leave the city behind, there are two vital things you need to think about. These two road trip poopers can spoil all the fun of the free spirit of the road and can sometimes be fairly dangerous for your dog. These devils are called – Motion Sickness and Car Disobedience!
Most of us have a friend or family we’ve made fun of because their nervous guts give way every time they get into a car or a bus. Well, it’s not funny. It’s specially not funny when it happens to your dog and you have semi digested mess all over your car’s upholstery. Motion sickness or car sickness is a very real problem in dogs, especially in puppies.
What causes motion sickness in dogs?
The primary reason for motion sickness in puppies is mostly physical and related to the development of the ear structures that provide the sense of balance. A properly developed ear structure provides a correct sense of balance, direction and grounded-ness. In the absence of this development or while it is still in progress, the topsy turvies of a car ride at varying speeds or bumpy roads can confuse the puppy about her state of rest or motion, bringing in anxiety and stress.
The other cause of motion sickness is the experience and stress that your dog has come to associate with a car ride. If your dog had motion sickness as a puppy and has come to associate car rides with the trauma of vomiting or anxiety, their car sick behaviours will continue even when they grow up. The other cause of the stress that your dogs feels about getting into the car could very well go way back to their first few car rides. Unfortunately, in India, where places to take our dogs for recreation are non-existent, our most frequent car rides with our dogs are to the vet. Vets are great hoomans, but most dogs don’t really think so. So, when they get into the car (rather forced in) they replay their experience at the vet and make themselves sick enroute as a “flight and flight” response!
What does motion sickness look like?
The most visible sign of motion sickness in dogs is the dreaded puke all over the car. It can happen within seconds the car starts moving or in a few minutes. Once that happens, we might think that the rest of the ride would be eventless. But, that’s not the case. The difficulty of your dog will continue during the whole ride because of the stress he is under. Keep an eye out for anxious behaviour like excessive drooling, almost bordering on frothing, continuous licking of the lips and snout and a lot of yawning. You might even hear some whining from your back seat. While this might be manageable for short trips, on a long road trip, this can become very stressful for you and your dog. While there are no studies on impact of long road trips on motion sick dogs, we are sure you don’t want to be the first one to find out! Rather, let’s look at how to go about managing your dog’s motion sickness and hopefully even curing it.
Managing motion sickness
Before we look into how you can help your dog get over his motion sickness, let us put out the good stuff in the open – Not all dogs, not even all puppies suffer from car sickness. Some dogs are just born for the car. Some would spill their guts out (literally) even before the car is out of the basement parking. Some would bob around anxiously for a while and then fall into a deep slumber till the car stops next!
Now let’s see how you can go about managing your car hater’s motion sickness. While an option is to give your dog some anti-nausea medicine before commencing the journey, and you should talk to your vet if your dog’s case is acute, we have not found this to be a useful solution for our dogs at TailTrails. While motion sickness has a physical aspect to it, there is a very strong and overwhelming behavioral and emotional side to it. What we are sharing here is the approach we took to get our puppies over acute motion sickness by physical conditioning and emotional reassurance. We suggest this approach be used with all dogs before you embark on a multi-hour road trip to get them in the groove. The amount of time you send will obviously depend on how naturally your dog takes to the car!
A car ride is a strangely unnatural thing – you are at rest, yet you are moving. And then suddenly comes a pot hole that makes the world move in every unnatural direction possible. So all that you need to do is make you dog a pro in dealing with this unnaturalness. The trick is train your dog very slowly to absorb the different aspects of driving around in a car. But before that the magic is to calm your dog by tiring her out. So, start every training session, with a looooooooooong walk! That way the time you get in the car your dog has burnt up a good amount of energy and is left with much less to get anxious once in the car.
About actually getting in the car; it would be good to park the car at a place that’s different from your regular parking environment. If you stay in a gated community, try to park the car outside. This change of environment reduces the risk of your dog building up the anxiety as she gets into the parking area. An icing on the cake would be if you have multiple cars. Use the car that’s not associated to the regular ride to the vet. In the initial days you might have to put up with a bit of resistance when you try to get your dog in the car. Try to be as gentle as possible. If you have a puppy, pick him up into the car.
Now comes the easier, but longer and gradual part. Start you rides with everything at minimum – distance travelled, localities covered, speed and most important, bumpiness. Rest assured that initial few rides would still end in some puke and droll. Don’t succumb and don’t give up. Make up your own incremental milestones with greater distances, time, speed and road conditions. Just don’t make the mistake of attaching timelines to these milestones. This is not a project delivery, it’s about changing the mindset of your buddy. It will take whatever it takes. Every time you hit a milestone repeat it for 3 days. Then move to the next one. Over time you will move from few minutes of pukey rides to hours of ear flopping cruises.
This part is much simpler than the previous one, but it’s the one that has a much deeper impact on your dog’s comfort during a ride and also the bond between you both. The sole objective is to make your dog believe that a ride in the car is mostly fun and ends in great adventure and reward. All you need to do is carry some of your dog’s favorite treats and during every ride find a spot that’s easy to walk around with your dog. Make sure that area doesn’t have stray dogs. We love strays and care a lot for them. But we also respect them and their way of life. They are territorial and don’t like outsiders. So, don’t get your dog off the car in an area that has strays. Once you have found a nice spot, get off and take your dog for a walk. The new smells in a safe environment will get your dog pumped up and the explorer mode will kick in. Walk around for 15 mins. Once you are back to the car give your dog the treats. So what you did was told your dog that a car ride is all about new great experiences and some yummy treats.
So you have done all the training to cure car sickness and your buddy is now a creature of the roads! You are off to Goa and stop to stretch your legs. You open the rear door of your car and your puppy dashes out, and out from the bushes leap out four strays who have taken serious offence to the intrusion in their territory. That’s just the not-so-bad thing that can happen. We don’t really want to get into the ugly stuff!
While all the conditioning gets your dog all pumped up about car rides and soon the word “Road Trip” will result in a flicked head and excited ears ready to hop in the car, every time you stop the car your dog will be over excited to bounce out of the car and run through and into the unknown! Unless of course you have trained her to be a good girl when the door opens. For your dog’s and your own safety it is imperative that you teach your dog that she can come out of the car only when you have allowed her to do so by saying a word that means “jump out now”! Let’s see how to go about it.
Hopefully your dog rides in the rear seat; always! The front seat is a very risky place for dogs, just like it is for small kids and infants. So always have your dog in the rear seat. After you have picked a stop for the break, stop the car and give your dog the command to sit. After he sits get off the car and go to the rear door that is farthest from your dog. Chances are that you dog is already standing with excitement. Ask him to sit again. Keep repeating till she actually sits. Now open the door very slightly. Your dog will invariably move quickly towards the door. Close it carefully, but firmly and ask your dog to sit again. After your dog sits, repeat the whole thing again till your dog stops getting up every time you open the door. Now your dog knows that if he moves every time you open the door, she is never getting off. Open the door, place yourself strongly in front of the door to avoid any rogue attempt to make a dash for the door and get your dog’s leash in your hand. Now give your chosen command that would mean “jump out now” and with a small nudge get your dog off the car. And that’s it. No, not yet. Once outside the car your dog is not free to be rowdy. Make sure after getting her off the car, you make him sit properly first and then start your walk. A mad rush right after a disciplined stepping off the car can be as dangerous as a over excited leap off the car! Finally, it’s time to soak in those new smells, feel the new earth and just romp around the fields while the occupants of every passing vehicle amusingly ogle at you both!
Planning your first road trip with your dog will be an experience you will never forget. Your dog will not know what’s going on till the time the trip really begins, but he will join in on all the fun seeing you all charged up. Every time you sit with the laptop to plan the route, look for the dog-loving hotel, buying doggy car stuff online you will have a wagging tail and panting tongue plonk beside you. Then as you hit the highway and shift into cruise control, the soft breathe of the furball dozing off in the back seat will be the one that would be more relaxing than any spa music ever. Just stay focused on the road and breathe in the journey. Of course stay tuned as we bring up the next posts to help you with every aspect of planning your maiden and every other road trip with your bestest buddy. Very soon you will have several memories likes these ones to share with the world!