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Ask A Vet: Is Your Dog Scared of Car Rides?

Photo via fiver753 on Flickr.com

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. They've enlisted their Co-President, Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, to answer your questions every week. Got a question for Dr. Scarlett? Ask away in the comments!

Q: Our dog gets crazy anxiety every time we take a car ride. She can't sit still and she's very shaky. What can we do to help her and make car rides more pleasant?
 

A: What’s your driving record?  Just teasing.  Whether the anxiety is due to a traumatic event in the car or just plain fear of your driving, the cure is similar.  Depending on the severity of the anxiety, your dog may need desensitization/counter conditioning training or possibly drug therapy.  Before we work on the car behavior I recommend you purchase a dog car restraint.

In my years as an ER vet I saw too many dogs become ‘projectiles’ in otherwise minor car accidents.  Additionally, this is a safety devise for you—driving with a dog which is pacing, jumping over the seat and shaking is distracting and dangerous.  When you get a restraint, make sure you give your dog plenty of time to get used to it and create positive associations with it.  Put it on your dog at home or go for walks with it and so forth. One way to start the desensitization training is to simply sit in your car with your dog.  Don’t start the car.  Just sit—and ask your dog to sit.  Reward her with food or affection when she sits and settles down.  It may take many sessions to get to a place where your dog can hop in and sit down calmly.  Hopefully,you won’t have to take your dog by car to the vet before you make some headway on training.  When she can sit calmly then try starting the car.  Once again, just idle and reward calm behavior.  In some cases the anxiety is so severe that anti-anxiety drugs are needed initially to allow for learning, in these cases, I recommend consulting with a veterinary behaviorist, to create a thorough behavior modification and drug therapy plan.

While we can’t answer all of the questions here, please feel free to ask us during our Friday Twitter Ask the Vet Chat.  If your animal’s problem is of an immediate nature, please call your vet or you can reach the SF SPCA at 415-554-3030 to make an appointment.