Ask the Dogcharmer: Bernard – The Martha's Vineyard Times
Our dog Bernard hates car rides. He shakes, pants, whines, and won’t sit still. We avoid the car altogether because we feel bad, but we want to be able to travel with him during the holidays. Any tips and tricks to help him get over his fear?
Nikki, Max, and Bernard
Dear Nikki and Max,
I’m assuming that it’d not the case that the only time Bernard gets in the car is to get his nails clipped. Nevertheless, if I asked Bernard what he thought about car rides, he’d say, “As much fun as a canker sore.” At this point I’m not as interested in why, but rather how we change his association from car-equals-canker-sore to car-equals-fun. Start with engine off, and hang out with him for 15 minutes in the car. If he’s shaking and panting, please don’t pity and console, saying, “It’s OK” while stroking him. You could be inadvertently rewarding his fear response. Give him support, not pity, and the line between pity and support can be a fine line. Be upbeat and happy. “Isn’t it cool in here, Bernard? We’re having a great time!” etc. Occasionally offer him a little piece of people food. At this point, the only place on earth he gets people food is in the car. If he’s frightened enough, he won’t take the chicken — initially. If you have to do this several times a day for 10-minute clips, hang in there until he starts accepting the chicken.
When he hops into the car to garner those meat tidbits, you graduate to doing the same routines, but with the engine running. When he’s OK with that, it’s time for a quick trip around the block, or a real short ride to a place he enjoys, like a friend with a dog Bernard loves to play with, or a favorite walking location. Success must build on success! It’s critical that you don’t rush it or skip any of the steps. Be patient with this; your quality of life (all three of you) will vastly improve if he’s cool with the car.
Have a question for the Dogcharmer? Write him at email@example.com. Find him on Instagram at DogTrainer Diaries.