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My Dog Can't Travel Without Throwing Up

February 15, 2019


Truth is a dog who is not accustomed to riding in a car or truck may be disturbed more by the anxiety of going for a ride than the odd feeling of riding in a vehicle. After all, cars have vibrations, make noises and create a visual of everything whizzing past the windows as you travel. Moreover, some dogs get motion sickness just like people do. Regardless of the cause of their motion sickness, the repetition of queasy feelings can trigger an unrealistic response leading to your pet becoming fearful of riding in vehicles.

There is always a possibility that your dog had traumatic experiences that you do not know about. This is especially true for rescue animals. In such cases, the dog's only experience with riding in a car may have been the trip to the animal shelter. Other frightening experiences like going to the veterinarian's office or being left at a boarding kennel can account for car phobia and a pet's lasting fears about vehicles. If you dog's car sickness stems from more than adapting to the motion, you might need to create positive associations with the car by using treats and praise.

Classical conditioning is the learning principle that Ivan Pavlov used in the late 1800s for research experiments with reflex conditioning for dogs. Just as Pavlov used a biologically potent stimulus (food) paired with a neutral stimulus (bell) to affect behavior, your dog will respond favorably to travel conditioning. Using treats and praise you can have fun with your dog just loading and unloading into the backseat of your parked vehicle. Once you are achieving positive outcomes, you can take short trips and gradually increase the distance. Just remember that your goal is to pair the treat with the trip to achieve the desired conditioning.

If your dog does not respond to classical conditioning, his or her "fear factor" switch may be tripped. Although dogs are not particularly complicated animals, obsessive behaviors involving their anxieties can often override their good sense leading to all kinds of common dog phobias. Dogs that don’t outgrow motion sickness and don’t respond to classical conditioning may benefit from the use of medication. There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications that may decrease your dog’s motion sickness symptoms. Be sure to consult with a veterinarian, as you will need to know the correct doses for your breed.

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