Some dogs may simply be fearful of even going near the car but don’t actually get car sick. In both cases, the owners have to change the way the dogs feel about riding in the car.
In a previous edition, I wrote about desensitization and counterconditioning, and these are two tools you’ll use in this situation as well. If your dog really starts to get sick, panic, or become fearful as soon as you approach the car, you’ll have to start at a distance. Go toward the car only as close as the dog is comfortable, reward, and walk away. If he seems okay, move closer, reward, and walk away. Never push him to the point of him getting scared. Take your time… baby steps. Remember, you are rewarding him for being near the car, not for doing anything else. Being near the car means he gets treats. For dogs that seem to get nauseated the instant they see the car, you’ll really have to start far away or choose another reward such as a game of tug or fetch if he likes those.
After you can approach without a negative reaction, the next step is putting him into the car, rewarding, and getting him right back out. At first, don’t even close the door; just get in and out again. Do this several times being sure he stays relaxed. Gradually increase the time he is in the car. Work up to sitting in the car while he eats an entire meal. Ask him to get out before he seems uncomfortable.
Once your dog seems happy to get into and hang out in the car, you can go to the next step: actually driving. Start by just turning the engine on. Let it run for a few seconds and turn it off again. Do this several times until he doesn’t seem stressed by it. You’ll need to assess how well he’s doing with his progress and changing the way he feels about riding in the car. You may be able to back out of the driveway and pull right back in or you may only be able to put the car in drive and then right back in park before you get him out. Each time, you can increase the distance you drive by a little bit. If he actually gets car sick, before you start driving any distance, you should talk to your vet about medication for car sickness. Changing the way he feels about riding in the car won’t really work if he ends up getting motion sickness anyway.
Also be sure to drive to some fun places, too. Don’t only go for car rides just to wind up at the vet’s office! As a reminder: Always be sure your dog is secured in the car so that if you open a door, he does not bolt out.