An AKC.org reader asks: Every time I put my dog in his car seat to travel, he starts shaking and whining and then starts to drool. Then he throws up, even though he hasn’t had anything to eat or drink. I have tried taking him for short rides and rewarding him with food, but he gets so nervous he will not even eat his favorite treats. I want so much to take him with me when I must go for short trips. What can I do?
When dogs are very stressed or anxious, they will often not eat food — even their favorite kinds. When an animal (or human) is nervous, the sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline. When this happens, anything not needed for immediate survival becomes unnecessary.
When your dog is stressed about being in a car and refuses to eat, it’s because his body is telling him that eating is unimportant right now. This isn’t an uncommon reaction when dogs are stressed, and the solution is very simple: Start more slowly.
If your dog won’t eat treats in the car, will he eat treats next to the car? What about in the garage? On the driveway with a car parked in the street? The key is to start wherever your dog is not stressed or nervous and slowly move towards the car. Break each step down into very small pieces, and only move on once your dog is totally comfortable at the current step.
The steps may look something like this: Dog eats food 10 feet from car; eats food eight feet from car; eats food six feet from car; eats food four feet from car; eats food two feet from car; eats food directly next to the car; eats food while car lock remote beeps; eats food with car door open five feet away; eats food while you are in the car and he is outside; eats food with head inside the car; nose touches car door for treats, etc.
It can be a very slow process, but as long as you don’t progress to the next step until your dog is totally comfortable, it will get better.
Our dogs are cherished members of our families, sharing our lives and providing unconditional love. But all dog owners know that our canine partners have different perspectives on life than our human family members.
If you have ever asked, “Why does my dog do that?” then this feature is for you. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline training team will answer your questions on dogs’ behavior and offer training advice to help you and your dog have the best relationship possible. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline is a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by professional dog trainers. For more information on the service and how to enroll, go to www.akcgooddoghelpline.org.