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Motion Sickness

submitted by Marj Brooks…Advice procured from behavioralist Gail Vettorino

Hi Marj and Julie,

I have a few questions for this Julie to think about:

How long has Julie owned this dog, when did the dog first begin riding in the car? Has the dog always salivated and/or vomited, exhibiting the same behavior from the first car ride? Is it worse when the route is full of curves in the road or up and down hill? Are you feeding the dog prior to the car ride, and if so, how soon before the dog is in the car? Where is the dog riding in the car – front seat, back seat, in the back of a van or truck? And is she more comfortable in one area of the car than in another? If the dog is not crated, does she try to lie on the floor of the car?

My feeling is that there is a cause to the anxiety that hasn’t been discovered, and other negative car experiences have been ruled out by Julie. Another cause of the behavior could be that the dog either currently becomes car sick, or used to be car sick. The questions are directed at discovering if the dog suffers from motion sickness.

If the dog is currently suffering from motion sickness the salivation is a physical response to the expectation of nausea and vomiting. The dog associates nausea and vomiting with the car. Whether the dog vomits or not can be due to several variables – when the dog last ate, the duration of the car ride, the type of terrain the car is traveling and where the dog is placed in the car. I think the vomiting is a sign that at some point, this dog has motion sickness, and the variables are controlling whether or not the dog vomits. Vomiting after getting out of the car would still indicate motion sickness because it can take a while after the motion ceases for that area of the brain to normalize.

Most dogs outgrow motion sickness. If this is the case, and the dog no longer experiences motion sickness but still exhibits the same behavior, then the dog may have only a remaining anxiety problem because the car is still associated with physical discomfort.

Dramamine can be administered to dogs for motion sickness. Check with a vet for the proper dosage amount. If the dog suffers from motion sickness, this could help by eliminating the physical symptoms.

With or without motion sickness involved, begin to build a positive association with the car and car rides for your dog by doing exactly as Marj has described. If you first only put your dog into the car, then gradually build up to moving the car, and then take her for very short car rides, you can begin to condition her to the motion of the car and build a positive association with the car. Let your dog be successful and relaxed at each step before you move on to the next. If it seems that she suddenly regresses, stop and go back in your conditioning program to where she was last successful, and stay there until she is relaxed and confident again. Once you are able to successfully go for longer rides, you can also try going to only dog-fun places for a while such as the park, pet store, etc. (and not to the vet) to really give her the feeling that car rides are fun and rewarding.

I hope this adds a bit, and Marj I agree completely with your advice!

A: from Marj Brooks, Manorie Dobermans, USA

Hello Julie,

Do you put her in a crate when you take her in the car. If so, each day take her to the car and put her in the crate and don’t go anywhere. You can cover the crate so that she cannot see out and hopefully it will have her relax and lay down. Start with a short time, say five minutes and do it little longer the next time. When you feel that she can handle the driving, try just taking the car with her in her covered crate around the block. Of coarse praise her and play with her and etcetera.

This method may be a bit slower but I do prefer it to tranquilizing her. You can however, buy some Bach’s Rescue Remedy (the spray) and try using this for calming her before you put her into the car. Just follow the direction on the bottle. You can give her some every 15 minutes until you see a calming and then put her in to car just to be in the crate and not driving.

The idea is to build her confidence to be in the car and in the crate and eventually go for a ride. When you do go for a ride, maybe you can take her for a leash walk after or do something that she likes to do, like play ball or whatever.

I am going to write a behaviorist for another answer for you and we will post it.

Thank you.

A: from Judy Doniere, Toledobes, USA


Are you using a crate or are you just letting her ride on the seat? Put her in a crate and cover the windows on the side of the car. It’s ok to let her see out the back. Most reasons for car sickness is seeing things pass by and it makes her nauseous. Put her in a crate, start the car and let it sit running with you in it. Turn on the radio so there is music or something other than the sound of the engine. After about 5 min. take her out. See if she was drooling. Try this for a few times and then take the car around the block and back home. Do this a few times and make the trips longer and longer. Soon she should be laying down in the crate and not getting sick.

A: from Holly Schorr, Pennylane Dobermans, USA

Years ago I was asked to “re-train” a bitch with similar problems. It was a long process which I had to give back to the owners to finish but I started by just putting the dog in the car, loose and in a kennel, and then taking her out. I did this several times a day and would let her sit in the car without it moving. I found she was better when in the crate than loose….presumably it gave her a little support. Then I would give her saltine crackers (helps to settle the stomach and they think they are a treat) and praise her.

After a couple of days I drove about two blocks and back, took her out of the car and praised and immediately started playing with her – she was in the crate when the car was moving. I did this several times a day and then gradually increased the length and time of the trips. I DID NOT make a big deal out of putting her in the car or taking her out but did play and praise her when she got out. I sent her home to her family with instructions to continue to increase distance and frequency and in time (probably a month) she was riding OK as long as she was in a crate. They moved across the country so I am not sure how she did long range but I think OK. Some dogs just hate the motion and do get sick. There are medications (ask your vet) to help with this. I read that you have tried the above to some extent but it takes time and a lot of patience to get the result.