Earlier this week, our house was being shown so I had to leave with our pups for a couple of hours. Emmett, my assistant, has always had anxiety when riding in cars. When we first found him as a stray, just getting him in the car was almost impossible. It is obvious to me that someone dumped him from their vehicle. We work with him regularly to help him overcome his fear and anxiety and he has improved dramatically.
As always, I did my “flight of the bubblebee” act, cleaning like a mad woman on the day of the showing. For some reason, this cleaning episode was much more stressful than the others. I could almost feel stress oozing out of my pores. I knew that I had to keep it together around the dogs. Dogs are very good at sensing your stress and other emotions. Unfortunately, I didn’t do such a great job. I was rushing to get them harnessed and in the car. Because of my rushing, they became excited. I realized what I had done but at this point it was almost too late. I knew when I loaded them in the car, Emmett was going to be stressed. And he was. Fortunately, he calmed down after a few minutes. but all this could have been avoided if I had kept my own stress level to a minimum.
Like us, dogs have life experiences – some good, some not so good. The impact these experiences can have on them varies both in intensity and in behaviors. Although a dog may not remember exactly what happened, they do remember the good or bad feeling associate with a particular event. For example, a dog was spanked by her human. When you reach your hand out to pet her, she cowers away from you. She remembers that a hand is bad and anticipates something negative is about to happen to her. The good news is that these bad feelings can usually get better. There is no guarantee that they go away completely, but they can improve.
If you have a dog who is anxious riding in vehicles, here are 6 things you can do to turn the anxiety into calm.
1. Practice First & Be Fun
Practice loading in the car before you actually have somewhere to go. To get your anxious dog to agree to get in your car, you’re going to need to be happy and sound fun. You may even want to get her favorite treat or toy and have it in hand. In a happy voice, say “Load” and pat the seat or put the treat/toy in front of her and let her follow it into the vehicle. Be sure to praise. Say “Good” “Load” and give a quick pet.
If this method doesn’t work, you can try having someone hold the leash. Go to the other side of the car and call her through the back seat. Many times, seeing you on the other side will give her enough encouragement to jump on in. Don’t forget to praise and reward!
2. Prepare Ahead of Time
Where are you going? How long will you be gone? What will you need to take with you? Is there something you need to take for your companion – water, treats, food? Get everything together and in your vehicle ahead of time. Then, you only have to worry about getting your dog in the car.
3. Do a Self Check
Are you in the right frame of mind? Are you stressed, rushing, frustrated? If you are, you are showing your dog your emotions. Step away for a few minutes. Take a deep breath and regroup. Don’t try to handle your dog until you have calmed.
4. Be Patient
This may take several tries. You want her to make the decision to get in the car on her own. Don’t force her or her anxiety will become even worse. Don’t scold her. Only offer encouragement.
5. Play Some Relaxing Music
Any relaxing music will do, but I’ve got a Spotify playlist that I use and my dogs love. I’ve shared it with you below.
6. Go Somewhere Fun
Make your companion glad she got in the car. If you only take your dog to the vet when they load up in the car, they’ll never be enthusiastic about going. Change it up and take them to the pet store or a walk along the canal. You can also take her on an impromptu vet visit to get weighed and hang out for a few minutes. This will show her that going to the vet is not always bad.
If you have any questions about anxiety in your dog or would like to schedule a consultation, call or contact me today at 762-218-3708. We currently serve the Evans/Grovetown area.
*NOTE: If your dog is unresponsive to these techniques or you don’t feel comfortable implementing them, contact a trainer who is familiar with behavior modification in dogs. Do NOT attempt to do anything that will jeopardize your safety.