Q: My Miniature Schnauzer seems to have a fear of car rides. When I put her in her carrier to go to the vet or groomer, she displays signs of distress like whining, trembling and drooling. How can I help her overcome her fear?
A: Sometimes, dogs develop a fear or dislike of car rides because they only get to ride in the car when they’re headed to their least favourite places. Your dog may have learnt to associate that getting into the car means she will end up at the vet’s or groomer’s, explaining her temper tantrums when you put her in the car. Thankfully, we can reverse this aversion to car rides. No matter what her actual fear is—be it not liking to go to the vet or grooming salon, having had a traumatic experience in the car before, or simply disliking the engine noises and jerky driving movements—you should desensitise her to vehicles.
Here are some tips:
• If your pooch is food motivated, feed her a meal in the car while you sit or stand at the driveway or carpark. If your dog is afraid of the noise, start with the engine off. Once she is more comfortable, try switching on the engine.
• Next, spend more time in the stationary car by giving her some of her favourite treats. You can also stuff a treat dispensing toy with her favourite snacks and give it to her while both of you are in the vehicle. The objective is for her to start feeling comfortable staying in the car through building duration.
• When you introduce car movements, start off with short rides. For example, start the car, drive out of the parking lot, and reverse back in. You need to slowly build up your dog’s tolerance for riding in the car. Always remember to have her favourite treats on hand and feed them to her during the “journey”. As long as your dog does not start whining or trembling, you can continue to gradually increase the amount of time she spends riding in the car.
Once your furkid gets the hang of car rides, make sure that you create a balance and not bring her to just “dreaded destinations”. Drive her to fun places, like the beach or dog run!