It is better to travel well than to arrive.
Summer is almost here! Road trips to the beach! Travel to the park! Go! Go! Go! If you’re like me, once the weather breaks, you want to be outside doing, well, …something. Sparta, Orion and I love hiking once the weather breaks (technically, Sparta likes hiking before the weather breaks – Orion and I are too delicate). Part of the fun, though, is discovering new areas to hike. We live in Lakewood, and are very familiar with the trails around the Rocky River Reservation, but several times a week we will travel to a new locale: Hinkley Reservation to hike Whipps Ledges. Down south to Strongsville to hike Royalview. In Vermilion, there is a great lagoon. All of these trips require a car ride.
Sparta and Orion are perfect little beasts in the car. But most dogs aren’t just born that way. Sparta sits in the back seat, her usual stoic look upon her face, waiting for her next orders. Orion sits in the passenger seat next to me, excited about our destination, but trying (and usually succeeding) to contain himself.
So, how did I get my little companions to do so well in the car?
Piloting. There is no substitution, no harnesses, herbal remedies, or restraints that will help your dog relax in the car. Piloting is the only thing that can take a dog who is hyper in the car and turn them into a road warrior.
Let’s take a few examples of bad behaviors in the car and address how to Pilot your dog through them:
- Hyper dog, who jumps back and forth between the seats and never seems to calm down. A couple issues with this dog: energy and possibly anxiousness. All dogs have questions that need to be answered. This dog’s questions are pretty simple: Are we there yet? Can I be in the front seat now? Can I drive? All of these are answered with a simple, gentle negative.As mentioned previously in the PAW Method, you need to control your situation before adding stimulation. In other words, don’t start trying to Pilot the situation while flying down the highway at 65 mph. Start simple. Put your dog in the car, start your car, and hang out in your driveway. If pooch starts acting hyper, simply use your body language and/or your negative command to address their question: Can I be hyper? Obviously the answer is no! Angle your body as best you can so you are facing them, and them stare them down. You may have to gently tap them on the ribs with your fingers to gain their attention (read: not discipline, you are merely getting them to focus). The moment they care calm, give them a rewards (Touch, Talk, Treat). Give a treat, gentle praise, and a gentle pet to reward. Quickly you won’t need the treat anymore. If you dog won’t accept the treat, that’s fine. Still offer, and still give the Touch and the Talk.
Stop the car and get your dog out once they are calm. You should never let your dog out while they are hyper. Remember, we are practicing calm – nothing fun ever happens unless they are calm first. Keep practicing this in your driveway. It is essentially the same as crate training: we want our dogs to become accustomed to the car. It’s a normal, every day thing. A “no energy” zone.
After you have mastered the driveway, enlist someone’s help to start driving. Anywhere is fine…just start moving. Every time your dog even gives a hint of energy, give them that gentle negative. If necessary, you can even stop the car until they’ve calmed down. Keep at it. Travel by car isn’t always achieved overnight.
- Anxious, worried, terrified dog. This dog is truly a sad sight to see. They are scared. They look like a small child in the queue for the world’s largest roller coaster: convinced they aren’t going to make it. Resist the urge to comfort. Remember, if everything is good, fine, and safe, why would you feel the need to confirm that? You don’t walk around your house reassuring them that it’s safe, right? Do the same thing in the car. If they seem to be doing a little better, you can offer them calm, gentle positives. Don’t try to soothe them with words: you are rewarding them for relaxing, not trying to bribe them into relaxing.
- Car sick dog. This usually occurs in puppies under 1 year, as their inner ear has not quite developed yet, giving them a frequent feeling of vertigo. Unfortunately, the best thing to do is ride it out. Orion reliably got sick in the car, every single time, until just after his 1st birthday. If your dog is older and still getting sick, it could be that you have a dog who is actually anxious in the car. Pilot him. He will calm down. You can also ask your vet what you can give your dog to help their stomach while traveling.
Keep at it. Don’t give up. You will have the perfect traveling companion. You just have to help them realize that there are indeed rules for them in the car.