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Q: We have two dogs: A cocker spaniel named Daisuke and a springer spaniel named Aries. We take both of them in the car with us often. Daisuke is just fine, but Aries barks and yelps the entire trip on both long and short drives. Aries is 10 years old and we’ve had him for two years. We’ve tried putting him in every part of the car and with/without anyone next to him, and nothing makes him stop. The noise irritates my husband so much that he resorted to using a muzzle, but even then Aries continues to bark. Is there anything else we can do?
A: Sounds like Aries has a nagging case of travel anxiety -- a common problem for both people and their pets. While most of us figure dogs all love to stick their nose out the car window to let their lips loose in the wind, canines with travel anxiety simply don’t know how to stick it out and enjoy the ride.
While Aries’ incessant barking certainly frays your nerves (with reason!), unfortunately the muzzle is likely just building on his negative and anxious associations with car travel. Addressing Aries’ auto anxiety requires changing his routine and his association with cars. Here are a few tips to get started:
1. Wear him out. Aries needs exercise before any car ride. Not just a stroll around the block, but serious romping that will leave him panting it out, ready for sleep. Fetch is a great game.
2. Crate him. A plastic travel crate is the safest way for a dog to travel, depending on his size. The crate will help Aries to chill out as it limits visual triggers and prevents him from nervous fidgeting.
If Aries is not already crate-trained, build a positive correlation with the crate by feeding him his meals in or near it, both in your home and car. Give him treat-stuffed interactive toys (the Kong or Busy Buddy are always crowd pleasers) while he spends small stints of special “treat time” near his cool new spot. And always try to feel out Aries’ comfort level. Don’t attempt to speed up the process by throwing his food in the crate and closing him in there. Consider this a gradual process.
3. Buy an “anxiety wrap.” While experts aren’t sure exactly why it works, the anxiety wrap method has been around for many years, and plenty of dog trainers swear by it. A wrap such as the Thundershirt, which applies a gentle and constant pressure on your dog’s torso, can significantly reduce anxiety (and with a money-back guarantee, it's absolutely worth a shot!).
4. Test out an herbal anxiety remedy. A half hour before travel, give Aries Rescue Remedy or melatonin -- the same light and natural anxiety remedies that help people with travel anxiety. Get them at your local drug store or pet store. You can also spray a towel or blanket that you can use in the car or crate with DAP (dog appeasing pheromones).
5. Establish a positive association with the car. Start by feeding Aries by hand near and in the car. After many sessions, run the motor during each meal. Progress to driving slowly back and forth in the driveway while feeding. Next, take small trips around the block, slowly progressing to very short trips to the store. Again, always make sure to keep an eye on whether Aries is losing it, and only move on to the next step when he’s not showing any symptoms of freak-out. If he starts barking or looks nervous, it simply means you’ve moved too fast and need to spend more time at the previous step.
Just be patient and in no time Aries will be a tail-wagging traveler -- and your hard work will mean you soon associate your car with peace.
Colleen Safford of New York Walk & Train is one of NYC's most recognized dog trainers. As host of The Family Pet on Pet Life Radio, Colleen addresses common child-pet issues, appropriate pet selection, and child-friendly training techniques. Colleen is also the featured trainer in Nylabone's entire book and DVD series for new dog owners. Colleen's driving motivation is to keep dogs safely in their homes and out of shelters. She advocates for rescue and adoption and is proudly owned by Luna, her rescued boxer(ish).
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