I discussed carsickness and its possible impact on a dog’s fear of car rides in the first part of my Friday Focus story. As promised, I’m now going to discuss fear that doesn’t necessarily relate to a specific physical cause and offer some possibilities for eliminating it. Many of these car phobia remedies can be applied to other anxieties, such as a fear of thunder.
Or of hearing cockroaches whacked.
The slowest, most painstaking, and often most effective way of getting your dog over auto anxiety is teaching him to associate the car with good things — or at least not bad things. Here is one example of how it might work, taken from YourOwnVet.com:
To get a dog used to getting in the car, start by only giving the meals in the car. The dog will have to get into the car to eat and after a while will learn to jump into the car. As soon as the dog is jumping into the car on her own, then start closing the door and just sitting there for 5 minutes. Do this for about 2 days. Then after closing the door, start the car and sit for 5 minutes with the engine running. Do this for another 2 days. The next time drive a short distance, like around the block. Each time when you let the dog out of the car give a very special reward like a piece of chicken Vienna.
Once the dog is happy going around the block extend the distance and drive to a park and have some fun in the park.
Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all technique. It’s not a good idea to sit in a car in Tucson at this time of year, for example, without the engine running and the a/c on. And some dogs — like Frankie — are too stressed to eat outside the house, even if he were allowed such treats as chicken Vienna — whatever that is — which he isn’t, because of his diabetes.
But you get the picture.
By this I mean items that your dog doesn’t ingest. They include:
Dr. Temple Grandin, animal scientist and autism expert, has written about how cows — and some humans such as herself — are comforted by being enclosed in a “hugging device.” The same gentle constant pressure applies to baby swaddling — and to the Thunder Shirt, which is purported to help alleviate travel anxiety as well as fear of the noisy natural phenomenon for which it is named.
The best known type of soothing neck wear for dogs is the Dog Appeasing Pheromone collar, described here by Dr. Janet Tobiassen-Crosby on her About.com Veterinary Medicine site:
- Pheromones released during lactation give puppies a sense of well-being and reassurance, known as appeasing pheromones.
- DAP is a synthetic version of this pheromone, called Dog Appeasing Pheromone.
- The pheromones are embedded in the plastic collar. The dog’s body heat helps emit the odorless pheromone from the collar.
Dr. Crosby tried the collar on her dog, Sophie. Read her review here.
More recently — and I’m very excited about this — I learned about aromatherapy calming collars when their creator, Deb Mendez, offered to send me one for Frankie. As it turns out, she sent me two, one extra strength. I haven’t road tested them yet, but Frankie has been wearing them around the house and looks very dapper. And he seems calm. Which, admittedly, he generally tends to be around the house.
Basically, this product blurs your dog’s vision so as to block out overly exciting stimuli. It’s recommended by some prominent behaviorists in conjunction with behavior modification programs but, frankly, it seems a bit too Hannibal Lecter-ish for me.
For example, the Through a Dog’s Ear driving CD. Once again, I’m going to refer you to Wrigley, the canine music critic, who attested to its benefits on this blog.
Don, one of the many people who commented on yesterday’s roach-thwacking post, suggested I use headphones to keep Frankie from hearing the sound of my vermin attacks. That was a joke, right? Turns out, there was more truth to it than we knew. Amy H, commenting on my first auto-anxiety post, wrote:
My lab of 11 years was fine in the car but hated the airplanes (he had over 1000 hours in small airplanes). I tried all kinds of things but finally figured out it was more about the noise than the motion; in an aircraft, unlike a car, if flight is coordinated there will not be sideways g-forces, only straight down. With my new pup (who loves riding in the car) I got some mutt muffs which are designed specifically for passive noise attenuation for dogs. They might also help in cars if noise is an issue (or on the 4th of July for that matter).
So there you have it: several more ways to deal with car anxiety. Has anyone tried them — especially the Thunder Shirt and Calming Cap? If they weren’t so expensive, I’d be very tempted to get Frankie those headphones…
But I’m not quite done. When nothing else works… turn to drugs. Part 3 –wait for it!