While car sickness is not considered a behavioral problem, it sure is something that is just as important to deal with as any type of other issue with your dog. Having to clean up your dog’s mess with every car ride is not fun at all.
A dog that gets carsick is a genuine victim of motion sickness (rare in dogs), a leader-type animal that becomes ill as a psychosomatic response to its inability to control its circumstances, or one that has experienced traumatic reinforcement in a car or at the journey’s end. A prime example of a trauma victim is a dog that always gets ill on the way to the veterinarian, but seldom on the way home. In several cases, this predictable reaction was used in correction. The dogs were driven away from home, in the opposite direction from the clinic, then back toward home and thence on to the doctor. No illness occurred. Different routes were used on later trips.
Most carsickness cases are not so easily corrected. Where no emotional basis is found for the problem, administration of motion sickness medication has proved helpful. If excessive salivation accompanies vomiting, atropine sulfate (by veterinary prescription) may alleviate the problem. In cases involving behavioral relationships, a combination of general environmental and leadership adjustments succeeds.
Most of the carsickness cases encountered by professionals involve a leader-type dog. Therefore, the first step toward correction is for the owner to gain a dominant leader position. Together with teaching a few simple commands, all general petting of the dog must cease. Any solicitation for attention by the dog must be countered by a command, with a few seconds of petting and praise if the dog responds appropriately.
This regimen impresses on the dog that the owner is in control of the general tenor of life. In addition to command training, the dog should be taken for an upbeat car ride around the block at least twice daily. The owner should act jolly toward the dog throughout the ride, reinforcing happy behavior. These trips may then be extended in time and distance over a 6-week period, after which permanent correction is usually achieved.