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Travel Anxiety

06/02/2022 - General


Lots of dog’s struggle with car travel and Kita my rescue Rottweiler is one of them.  This isn’t perfect for us yet, but we have come a long way and here is our story:
Kita was a rescue dog who came to me at 16 weeks old,  she was fairly small then, so I was lifting her into the car and therefore didn’t notice an issue !
She started refusing to leave the house and would stop around 20ft short of the car.  We had to stop Puppy Classes as I couldn’t get her in and out of the car to go there !!!
I will never know what caused her problem in the first place, it could have been a bad experience before I got her or, some puppies get car sick, and this can then develop into anxiety.
Kita is also diagnosed with Hip and Elbow dysplasia so there could certainly have been some pain factors that contributed to her dislike of the car.  This is  something I addressed by getting pain medication from the vet and we regularly see a physio.
Sometimes when working with car travel you have to try out some different options – different place in the car, crated or not crated, some memory foam that will help your dog not move around so much.  Whichever option you choose, for legal and safety reasons your dog does need  to be secured.

The Car:

Now I know this is extreme, but we changed our car, it was due for changing anyway but the new one was bought with a view to it being better for her – we changed from an SUV to an estate as it would be lower….  I did /have worked with her in the new car but as it happens this isn’t  the car she travels in as she seems to prefer being in the back of my small car ( she is on the back seat with a guard and a seat belt harness), she is closer to me and I think she prefers the way the back door closes sideways rather than a boot from up to down.  I still work with the Estate, but I am just happy to be able to get her in any car at the moment !!
We worked with the car on an almost daily basis for many many months, in fact it took around 18 months to get her to the point we are now.  We did have days off from car training to give her a break from it and for my own sanity !!!
Whilst we worked on the car anxiety, I didn’t force her into the car at all, we walked everywhere for exercise. this is very limiting, but I didn’t want to ruin any training and trust we had built up.  I did need an essential journey to the vets, so I took her in my friend’s car to see how she was in a different car and hopefully not ruin what we had achieved already in our own car.   My vets are a 10 min drive away, she was extremely stressed and was sick in the car due to panting so much !!!


Firstly, I just needed to get her to walk near the car:
We used Free work for this – a confidence building activity that involved exploring items in and out of the car.   I would also do some training outside my house / around the car, occasionally walking near and scatter feeding close to the car.
We did a lot of play in the car and out of the car and I would let her retrieve toys from the car. Also tossing treats in for her to eat and come back out again.
At no point yet did I even attempt to close doors.
Sometimes when leaving the house on our normal walks I would walk the other way near the car, then just continue on my normal walk and occasionally on the way home I would do the same.
Progress from here was getting her to stay in the car without darting straight out and then we began to move the door – rewarding heavily for this and then progressed to close door , open immediately and then reward.
Important to add at this point that I mixed up this training, not always progressing with harder things, often we would still just walk up to the car and sometimes just jump in get treated and come out again.
I then moved on to shutting the door and getting in the front seat and throwing treats into the back while I was sat there – or give her something tasty like a Likki Mat.
Next was the same again with the engine running before getting brave and moving the car – about 2 inches !! 
Moving on to driving the car around the corner (about 1 minute ) I would stop for a moment or two – rewarding with something tasty.  Then back home – neighbourhood watch must have thought I was mental !!  I gradually increased this time before being able to do a 5 min journey to our closest green space for a play and then back home.

Current Situation:

Kita will now get into the car before and after journeys without any lures ( I still reward her) we are able to do 60-90 min journeys.  I doubt she will ever actually enjoy car travel or that I will ever be able to take her on long trips but from where we started this is a huge achievement.
It has been a long, hard and frankly tedious training journey but it couldn’t be rushed and needed to be done at her own pace.

I hope the ideas here can help some of you with your own challenges.