Health and Behavioral Problem Discussions




Now You Can Have a Dream Dog!




In this section, Dr. Dare Miller answers our customers' letters.








Dear Dr. Dare:

You said there were times when there were psychological causes to a dog's car sickness. We have a lovely dog that we'd like to take places with us but she gets car sick. Our veterinarian gave us sea-sick pills which didn't help at all, as a matter of fact his tranquilizers didn't either. The tranquilizers made her woozy and their effect lasted so long afterwards, it just wasn't worth it. Everybody we ask about it says something like, "if you find a cure let me know too." Apparently the only way we can take our dog with us in the car is to knock her out. This is a serious problem and very important to us. Is there anything else we can do?

Woozy in New Jersey


Dear Woozy:

Your problem is a doozy. Veterinarians as well as most other people have in the past usually thought of motion sickness as the only cause of car sickness. I previously spoke of our findings at the Canine Behavior Institute from 33 cases of car sickness in dogs. I'll recall only the main points for you here. Probably the worst of the 33 family dogs were three who became hyperactive, drooling and vomiting when put in their cars even before the car moved! This in itself tended to show that the problem was not altogether motion sickness. But the question remained; had motion sickness originally triggered, then conditioned these dogs to their present state? Our findings led us to the conclusion that several factors of varying importance far outweighed motion sickness. However for whatever reason these dogs originally became car sick, it was obvious that if not cured soon they became conditioned to it. So if you have a car sickness problem you had better find the causes quickly and correct them.


Several interesting points came from the study. (1) The time lapse between feeding and the car trip, usually thought important, was not too significant. (2) The distance traveled or time lapse between starting out and onset of sickness was surprisingly significant. In 21 of the cases we found that we could directly relate nearly the exact distance and time of travel to the destination of a previously objectionable experience on the part of the dog. For example, if the veterinarian's office was 12 minutes from home we found that 21 of these dogs would get sick in approximately 12 minutes travel time whether they were going to the doctor's office or not. This told us that the owners shouldn't let traumatic trips be their dog's only trips. How about a happy trip for each bad one? (3) It should also be noted as one would expect that those sickness prone of the 33 dogs traveled the least often. This told us to have owners with car-sickness-prone dogs to take them out more not less. (4) The owners of 11 of the 33 dogs kept them in pens or other close quarters more than 80% of their lives. Nine more of the 33 at 50% of the time, and 5 more at least 25% of their lives. In other words a strong percentage of these dogs led overly restricted lives which would seem to be a strong factor in their car sickness problem. Moral: teach your dog self-control and give him more freedom, less restrictions. We concluded from the overall study that the number two cause-factor of car sickness oddly enough could be the age a dog was taken into his new home from his littermates; for in 22 of the 33 cases the dog had left his littermates during the 8th week of age! This 8th week of age is now recognized as a traumatic, impressionable period corresponding to the 8th month (similar period) in human infants (Electroencephalogram of the Dog, Charles and Fuller). Best for the owner to take his puppy home during the 6th week of age. We felt the most significant cause-factor of all, number one, was whether or not the dog had a good master image of his owner. In all cases the owners complained that they had little or no control over their dogs. These owners readily agreed that their dogs were boss or at least bossy. The fact that 25 of the 33 dogs would not even come when called told us volumes and suggested the basic cure: Teach your dog! Become teacher or leader in his eyes. Give him confidence.


We found from this study that car sickness can be eradicated or at least controlled by an average of 62% in most cases. We developed two main techniques to do this: (a) More often but shorter car rides with happier endings gradually increasing in distance. (b) Unruliness corrected and quieted upon first evidence (lip licking and drooling) with owner control necessarily strengthened. Dog has to be shown that his owner is in control of the situation for confidence to develop. Most was accomplished by having the owner teach the dog to Lie Down or to Go from one side of the car to the other and then Lie Down whenever the dog started to become agitatedó to get his mind off it. In conclusion, it seemed that dogs just like humans worried themselves sick about the ability of their leaders. Did you ever notice that a car sick person is less sick if he moves up front with the driver? Give him or her the wheel and the car sickness disappears altogether.





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