Car Sick Puppies and Dogs
I get this sort of letter fairly frequently:
“Our dog does not do well in the car. He shakes and drools and vomits every time he goes in the car.”
Frequently this is perceived as a motion sickness issue (and sometimes it is) but more often than not it’s a byproduct of a common mistake breeders and puppy owners make during the dog’s critical socialization period and more specifically smack dab in the middle of the pup’s fear imprint period.
In short a dog’s critical socialization period (approximately 3 – 12 weeks of age) is when breeders and dog owners can craft a dog’s temperament. Wise breeders and pup owners will spend a lot of time during this period immersing the pup in positive and neutral experiences that involve actual or reasonable representations of future life experiences. (You can learn more about whys and hows etc by reading my ebook http://store.askthedogguy.com/socialize-your-puppy-for-everything-by-john-wade/)
When you look at the history of dogs that melt down whenever they get in the car you’ll find that in many if not most cases their first car ride was their trip from the breeders/mother/litter mates and everything familiar to them to their new homes when they were between 8 to 10 weeks of age which is a particularly sensitive period during critical socialization as they are susceptible to fear imprinting.
With these dogs, the second car ride also occurs during their fear imprint period and is a trip to the veterinarian’s for their first set of shots. Along with the inoculation the veterinarian sometimes tells the client to refrain from taking their new puppy outside the home so as not to expose it to the sorts of viruses that the full series of inoculations are intended to protect them from.
As a result some dogs experience with car rides (leaving their mothers and getting a needle or two in what is often quite a hectic place for a young puppy) occurs in the middle of their fear imprint period and in their fear-imprint susceptible minds – cars – become for ever after linked to fear.
Two behaviour modification treatments for fear are gradual desensitization and flooding. I’ve never known the former to work as far as a cure but with some cases it can temper the symptoms. I don’t know of any dog that has been subjected to the flooding approach as it would be difficult to implement.
The best thing is to get the word out on how to prevent this from occurring in the first place and that can be accomplished by reaching out to the veterinarian, vet tech, and breeding community to make them aware. Veterinarian and vet techs can help by informing new puppy owners coming in for their first set of shots that they need to counter balance car rides that might be perceived as having negative outcomes with multiple car rides with multiple car rides with positive outcomes. Breeders can contribute by taking their pups on car rides many times before they are going to be permanently separated.
If you’re interested in learning more about Canine Behaviour Wellness have a look at these courses – Canine Behaviour Wellness Series