Does your dog turn into a whimpering pile of mush whenever you try to take it for a drive? Traveling is daunting when your best friend throws up on the upholstery, then attaches itself to your brake foot. If you approach the problem holistically, however, travel for the two of you can be downright fun. Ask yourself these questions:
Is your dog healthy?
Be sure it has no illnesses affecting its ability to travel. Stress, fearfulness, anxiety and disorientation can be caused or aggravated by a number of health problems, including chemical or hormonal imbalances and food allergies. “Biochemical imbalances, hypothyroidism, etc., can all impact negatively on the animal’s ability to cope with stress,” said Suzanne Clothier, a holistic trainer in St. Johnsville, N.Y. “Such problems should be addressed and corrected.”
Why is your dog becoming carsick?
If you have eliminated the obvious, the cause could be stress, sensitivity to movement, fear or more subtle problems. Clothier recommends a chiropractic checkup. “I’ve seen dogs who were poor travelers change dramatically when they were adjusted,” she said. “It seems that subluxations [incomplete dislocations] in the neck, particularly at the atlas [the first vertebra of the neck], can contribute to motion sickness or uneasiness, possibly due to inner-ear disturbances.”
Your dog may also be reacting poorly to different water or unfamiliar food. Carry a supply of both from home. Make sure your dog has plenty of water in the car, and provide additional water about every two hours at rest stops. Also, as with humans suffering from motion sickness, it may help if the dog sits facing forward and has access to fresh air.
Some veterinarians recommend withholding food six to eight hours before travel, but this can be difficult if your dog is used to being fed in the morning or requires regular meals to keep its body systems balanced. Instead, try a motion sickness preventive. Holistic-minded pet owners use ginger to soothe tummy turmoil. Ginger capsules, bulk dried ginger or ginger extracts are available at health food stores and some supermarkets.
Read the directions on the label and reduce the dose proportionally, according to the weight of your dog. For example, according to a general dosing rule from herbalist Gregory Tilford of Animal’s Apawthecary in Conner, Mont., if the dose on the label is for a 150-pound man, divide by the weight of your dog say 25 pounds, which equals one-sixth the dose on the label. If you need to increase the dose, do so in increments of 10 percent, but go no higher than 50 percent above your starting point, Tilford said. You can mix the dried or powdered herb into a small amount of food or add the extract to a little water and administer it with a dropper two to three times daily. If you are unsure of the dosage, ask a veterinarian experienced in using herbs on animals or an herbalist experienced in dosing animals.
Is your dog comfortable traveling in its crate?
Some crave the comforting close quarters of a crate; others enjoy riding unfett ered. Some dogs prefer to see where they are going; others do not. Watch your dog’s reaction. Perhaps you should cover the crate, leaving plenty of space for ventilation. Or try a wire crate or a seat belt and harness set. Whichever method you choose, don’t let your dog have the run of the car.
If you stop suddenly or have an accident, an unsecured dog could crash into the windshield or be thrown around the interior of the car. In addition, a loose dog could cause an accident by interfering with your driving. Your dog should be in a secured crate or tucked into a special harness that buckles into your car’s seat belt system. The seat belt-and-harness set works best for dogs heavier than 25 pounds; smaller dogs should be safely placed in a crate.
Is your dog afraid of the car or crate?
If your dog is afraid of entering the car or uncomfortable being in a crate, you may need to go back to a gradual, positive introduction, combined with therapies and remedies to reduce your dog’s stress during retraining. T-TEAM, a calming massage treatment, or even affectionate stroking and petting can calm your dog before, during and after car travel or a session with the crate.
In addition, calming flower remedies, such as Rescue Remedy or Five-Flower Formula, work well for some dogs. “Rescue Remedy is good for some; for others, it doesn’t work,” Tilford said. “Some individual flower remedies work in certain situations. You may need to consult a flower essence practitioner for additional advice on the best remedies for your situation. Administer these in con-junction with any training sessions according to the directions on the label in your dog’s water, rubbed on its ears or muzzle or as part of a misting spray.”
Finally, calming herbs can de-stress training sessions. Tilford recommends valerian, skullcap and oat straw as extracts, dried or fresh. Some veterinarians recommend chamomile, but Tilford believes the herb may not be the best choice. “Chamomile might work; it’s hard to say. It would be best in a tea, added to some salt-free broth.” Steep about 1 teaspoon of the dried herb or 3 teaspoons of fresh herb in about 1 cup of hot distilled water for 10 to 30 minutes. Strain the herb and add 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons to broth two to three times daily.
To accustom your dog to travel and its crate, start gradually and keep the session positive. Make the crate attractive by adding your dog’s favorite blanket and toy. Toss a treat into the crate, encouraging your dog to retrieve it. Do this a few times a day. When the dog seems comfortable going into the crate, feed it its meals in the crate with the door left open. Once the dog is accustomed to this, close the door while it is eating for brief periods. Gradually extend the time you leave the dog in the crate with the door closed. Repeat this process until the dog is comfortable being in the crate for a few hours.
Months before your trip is scheduled, accustom your dog to car travel. Lure it into the car with a treat and praise it highly for entering. (Leave the door open.) Do this daily for about a week, then put the dog into its crate or seat belt harness for short periods. Next, take short car trips that end with an enjoyable event, such as a romp in the park or a hike in the woods. Slowly extend the length of the trips, until the dog is comfortable spending several hours traveling with you.
How well trained and socialized is your dog?
Is it used to strangers and new situations? Did you take it to puppy kindergarten and obedience classes? If your dog does not respond readily to the basic commands — Sit, Stay and Come you may need professional help resocializing it. Dogs that enjoy new faces and places are less likely to be stressed and more likely to be happy travelers. Ask your veterinarian and friends for referrals to a dog trainer.
How well do you travel?
Are you tense and edgy when driving? Do you yell at other drivers and shake your fist at delays? You may be unknowingly transferring your stress to your dog.
Clothier counseled one tense owner, whose dog traveled hunched fearfully, to relax and sing as she drove. “To my delight, she wrote me immediately, noting that as she began to pay attention to her own attitudes while driving, she discovered that indeed she was holding her breath, clenching the wheel and sitting rigidly,” she said.
“She relaxed her hands, focused on her breathing, sat back more comfortably and began to sing whatever songs popped into her head. To her amazement, her dog first watched her with a raised eyebrow, then visibly relaxed, curled up on the seat next to her and slept peacefully all the way home.