May issue

May issue
May issue

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A bumpy ride

Dear Dogs Today 

I have a four-month-old collie puppy who has a problem with cars. If she knows she is being taken to the car I struggle to get her out the front door, and I eventually have to pick her up and put her in the car. She then goes to the furthest point away she can in the car and lays down and doesn’t move again until the car stops. Her car journeys are normally to go for a lovely walk or flyball competition so they don’t have a negative outcome.

When out walking her it’s clear to see that she has a fear of cars. She either tries to get away from them to the point that I've had to put in her in a harness to stop her from slipping her collar, or she chases them. I’m not sure if playing with her near my car with a tennis ball or giving her treats and getting her closer to the car (but not actually moving the car) would work. I have had dogs all my life but this little girl is the first with this problem. We travel in the car quite a lot and I would like to help her to be happier with it.

Sue, via email 


  1. Car chasing is unfortunately a common problem in collie dogs, due to their herding instincts - I wonder if at some point your little girl has had a narrow escape chasing a car or realised she was at risk and scared herself, causing these anxiety problems.

    As you say, what is generally done in this situation is to teach the association of the car with pleasant things and gradually build up the time spent in it - so put her in the car for just a couple of minutes whilst giving her treats or other rewards the whole time, and slowly build that up until she will go in the car on her own, then build up to moving the car, and so on. However, from what you say, she doesn't have negative associations with the car - she is always going on pleasant journeys anyway. Still, dealing with her fear of cars by distracting her from them with a toy and rewarding her for focusing on you rather than the car (including on walks when cars go past) will certainly make her more confident.

    As her car journeys are usually going somewhere nice, it makes me wonder if the problem is actually motion-sickness. If she drools during the journey, that is more likely. It might be worth asking your vet about trying a product called cerenia to prevent motion sickness - it can be given as an injection or in tablets. It is worth seeing if a couple of journeys with that make her happier about travelling, and if so she probably gets car sick and you can plan for that.

    There are a lot of other things you could try to help with anxiety - you might want to try using Adaptil pheromones (you can get a spray to spray in the car before travelling or a collar that she wears all the time) to help relax her, or to try Dorwest Skulcap and Valerian tablets for anxiety. Thundershirts also help calm some dogs.

    Giving her a 'den' in the car could help also - if you got her a crate and made it a pleasant, cosy place for her in the house, then if you moved it to the car before travelling it might make her feel more secure. Pets at Home sell some folding travel crates made of tough fabric with mesh windows.

    Finally, my parents have a dog who travels badly if she can't see out the window - she travels brilliantly in an ancient Peugeot 106 with 360degree views but badly in more modern cars where there is less chance to look out the window. It may be worth raising her up (safely - in a crate or restrained by a seatbelt) so she can see outside the car.

  2. Try treating her for the car's presence. When the car is near, treat her. Treat her firstly for every step she takes towards the front door. Only take one, or pushing it two, steps every day, and gradually build up her confidence as she gets closer to the car, with every treat. Once she can get into the car, feed her her meals in the car, ask her to sit or another simple trick in the car for a treat. Then, sit in the car with her without the engine on, just reading the paper so she knows nothing bad happens. As for her fear of other cars driving past, take her to a safe area a distance away from a road with cars, and play a fun game with her. Each day, get closer to the road, still playing and playing away.