April 13, 2022

How to master those holiday car trips

How to master those holiday car trips
Dr. Chris Brown

A car trip might be the ticket to an adventure you know they’re going to love but it’s still a hair raising hurdle for about half of the furry family members. For the rest, road trips are truly wonderful.

And interestingly, very few dogs and cats sit in between. So why do some love while others loathe the car? And can you convert them across to see the lighter side of travel?

To do that, we need to understand the LOVERS…

That excited leap (or carry for the small ones) into the car happens for a reason. After all, you’re driving the best ride in the pet amusement park. And quite seriously, it’s this supreme stimulation of the senses that they become hooked on.

Not only do they see so much scenery flying by but that incredible nose of theirs is bombarded with a smorgasbord of smells that would be truly mind blowing.

Especially when their ability to process and detect odours is 10,000 times better than ours. For those pets who have the window seat, it’s like the fastest, most stimulating trip run around the park they’ve ever had. But on this journey, they often end up somewhere exciting too. So it’s a double serve of dopamine!

Did you know? When you see their nose dripping in the car it's because their nose is so saturated with smells that they're having to flush it clear and rehydrate that wet nose at the same time. Crazy huh...

On the other side are the LOATHERS...

And almost consistently, it’s just one trip that’s made them this way. And it’s all because of something called Single Event Learning (SEL). Rather than taking a balanced view that ‘maybe’ the car isn’t too bad as it ‘could’ take me somewhere exciting, SEL means that for dogs or cats, if they hit an unexpected bump, hear a loud horn or siren or worse still, happen to get motion sick, then they assume EVERY car trip is a problem after that. And the anxiety they feel towards that car then heightens and often makes issues like noise phobias and (especially) motion sickness even worse.

The important thing to remember is it's not their fault or yours. There's just been one bad moment. Car loathers are often quite intelligent little characters though. If anything, they’re just over-thinking the trip and jumping to conclusions.

So what can you do?

Well for starters, ease that underlying anxiety that’s driving and amplifying so much of this travel tension and even nausea.

By giving some Calm + Collected treats at least an hour before the trip, you’ll settle their nerves and allow them to think more calmly and logically. The active ingredient (L-theanine) also helps them be less reactive to surprising sounds and sudden movements.

Calm + Collected
Calm + Collected

Then, start to switch around their opinion of the car. Without going anywhere, walk them near the car, make them sit and give a treat. Then walk away. Next, repeat while getting closer to the car. Then place the treat inside the car. Then eventually let them sit in the car and receive treats. Your vehicle is now getting some seriously good PR.
School Snacks
School Snacks

The next step is to go for a very gentle trip around the block being careful to not make any sudden movements or sounds. And don’t reward them if they seem stressed. Just shake your treat bag, get their attention and give them a small reward for holding your attention. Then instead of the block, take them to the park or their most loved spot. Soon, they’ll begin to see that car as being the ticket to the big game!

But there’s one crucial tip you need to borrow from the LOVERS. They almost all adore the car because they can see out a window. And that sensory stimulation just happens to protect them from the biggest curse of the car; motion sickness. That’s because what they’re SEEING matches what their FEELING with the twists, turns, stops and starts. The loathers who sit low in the car with no view ultimately let the risk of motion sickness because their senses (and their brain) become so confused and interestingly, this mismatch then makes their body think they've eaten a poison which they then need to vomit back up. So a raised car seat, car carrier or harness that allows them to have a view (and get all their senses in alignment)is key along with their calming treats…

Ultimately, it’s certainly possible to turn those sad eyes into looks of excited anticipation and let all the furry family feel some love for traveling again. You might also save that car upholstery from some serious stains…
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