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Charlie is my 9 mo old Moyen poodle, and he's a happy-go-lucky puppy who loves people. I've never had a dog who whines and trembles in the car, but he's been doing it since he was new to us. The only time he's calm while riding is if he's in my lap, and of course when he was 5-10 lbs, he was always in my lap so I wasn't aware he didn't like the car! Now that he's closer to 20lbs, I'm trying to figure out how to help him transition into sitting on his own and he's not happy! He is in the car with us at least a couple times a week (and more before the virus) for the 10 minute ride to town so we can go for a walk. We've tried his crate, he's been harnessed into a seatbelt, he's had favorite blankets and toys, and I've tried the spray pheromone in the car and on a bandanna around his neck. Nothing works! He cries and whimpers and sometimes shakes and pants, even while sitting next to me while I'm driving. (He half-crawls over the console so he's touching me as much as possible and continues to whine.)
He settles down a bit if we are heading home after a walk, and will lay down on the seat and calm down, but he doesn't like when the car slows down to make a turn - he will sit up, look around and begin whining again, and sometimes even while in my lap the speed changes make him anxious.
He's always willing to be picked up and go into the car (mostly because he's very attached to my husband and me and wants to be with us). But as soon as we start moving, he gets anxious. If this is a physical thing that he might outgrow, I don't want to punish him by forcing him to be miserable, but if this is a learned behavior then I need help to ease him out of it. Any suggestions? (And I apologize if there are too many Charlie picture in this post - I'm having problems figuring out how it works!!)
 

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Stella had horrible car anxiety to the point she would make herself sick and drool the whole time she was in the car. A couple times it even got as bad as her vomiting in the car. She didn’t even want to get in the car. I found what helped her was to put her in the back seat with the windows down. She loves the wind in her face and also I tried to bring her short distances at first that I knew were good experiences for her ( to the dog park and to play dates). She is just now getting over it and she is 9 months and I have been having her since she was 3 months old. Don’t know if this will help you but hopefully so. I know I was so upset when I found out how scared of the car she was because I wanted to bring her everywhere possible with me but felt horrible knowing she was miserable the whole time. Fingers crossed your baby gets over the anxiety.


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Sophy was violently sick in the car on the way home from the breeder, and after that she would start drooling as soon as she got in, and be sick on most journeys. How much was fear, and how much nausea, and which caused which I never really worked out, but I set about it with the classic methods.

I would walk her round the garden until she had peed and/or pooed, and then sit in the car with her, reading and playing relaxing music. We did that for half an hour or more several times a day, until she was relaxed enough to snooze. Then I started turning the engine on for a few minutes before we got out, then reversing just a few yards and back again, then just a little further. Eventually we got to the point we could do a journey of several miles, as long as I drove extremely carefully and avoided twisty country roads.

The big breakthrough came with an enclosed crate, which makes her feel much safer and more relaxed - I have noticed on the odd occasions that I have travelled with her in the back of someone else's car that she prefers to be right under a blanket where she can't see the world whizz by. She is still occasionally carsick - for a while she refused to get into my sister's car after an hour of her rather gung-ho driving! - but as long as I am careful she is fine.
 

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Normie hated riding in the car until all his trips were to either dog school or puppy play. After a few weeks of twice-weekly fun trips and daily trips to walk in the park, he improved and started whining for us to drive faster.

Some children are more sensitive to motion and that's probably true for dogs and your beautiful Charlie too.
If he's making you tense, he may be picking up on that too. (It's like holding a colicky infant - the screaming just gets worse inside you and from them.)

fjm's desensitization ideas do sound worth trying.
 

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Yes, you need to desensitize just as fjm described. Making sure that the pup gets to go fun places much more often than just vet and groomer is important for this process too.
 

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I have used different methods for car anxiety. One is to feed the dog in the car. It doesn't have to be his entire daily ration, but try half. He needs to get all the way into the car in order to eat.

I have also used a chewing bone. The act of moving the jaws helps to quell the physical unease he feels when the car slows down, speeds up, and turns corners. It also distracts him. I used raw meaty bones that were to tough to munch and swallow in a couple of bites. Try it out with the car still a couple of times, then close the door a couple of times, then close the door and start the car, etc... He only gets the chew bone when in the car.

P.S. I covered the seat.
 

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Does he settle on long stretches of highway? Because to me it sounds more like anxiety over "What's next??" than car-specific anxiety.

Still a hard thing to overcome, as car rides inevitably lead to all sorts of different places and experiences.

Could you try doing a series of short car rides, always following the same route and with the same destination? For example, for two weeks just five-minute daily drives to somewhere very unexciting. Maybe don't even get out of the car. Just sit and have a little chat, then back home. Boring boring boring.

I think going somewhere he loves might actually increase this anxiety, but I could be wrong. Just a hunch.

P.S. Such a cute boy!!
 

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Your boy is super cute!
Evie has had that problem since I first got until just about a week ago. (She is 21 months old)
What I found that helped along with desensitization is teaching a hup command to get in and out of the car that built confidence. Evie is now perfectly fine in the crate. Try that along with frequent SHORT car rides i.e. less than ten minutes one each daily with lots of praise but no treats. (Just in case that dog gets nauseous treats do not help)

I hope this helps.
 

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Thanks to all of you for your suggestions. I may have to go the de-sensitize route, and I will gladly do that, as soon as I've exhausted all the quicker fixes! I have ordered Rescue Remedy, because I read some good reviews about it, but I think for our walk tomorrow I will try a frozen peanut butter Kong for the car. Charlie always gets Kongs when we leave him alone in the house, and he loves them, but I've never frozen one.
I do feel that he's more anxious in new situations that feel out of his control, so when we're walking, he's happy and running and sniffing and busy ... but if we stop on the route and visit with someone, he doesn't settle down. After saying hi to the new person, he roams around restlessly on his leash, whining. And he's like that when I go in a store with him and stand in one place too long. If he's moving around in new situations he's fine, but if he's forced to stop and wait (in a store, in the car, etc.) then he's antsy (although MUCH more than antsy in the car!!). When he's anxious on the leash, I can bend over and pet him or even pick him up, and he'll calm down momentarily (just like if he's on my lap in the car he's much calmer). So this might be something he outgrows. He's such a confident little guy most of the time, this feels like just a little hiccup in his development, I hope!
Thanks again - love this forum for answers, information, and entertainment!!
 

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Thanks to all of you for your suggestions. I may have to go the de-sensitize route, and I will gladly do that, as soon as I've exhausted all the quicker fixes! I have ordered Rescue Remedy, because I read some good reviews about it, but I think for our walk tomorrow I will try a frozen peanut butter Kong for the car. Charlie always gets Kongs when we leave him alone in the house, and he loves them, but I've never frozen one.
I do feel that he's more anxious in new situations that feel out of his control, so when we're walking, he's happy and running and sniffing and busy ... but if we stop on the route and visit with someone, he doesn't settle down. After saying hi to the new person, he roams around restlessly on his leash, whining. And he's like that when I go in a store with him and stand in one place too long. If he's moving around in new situations he's fine, but if he's forced to stop and wait (in a store, in the car, etc.) then he's antsy (although MUCH more than antsy in the car!!). When he's anxious on the leash, I can bend over and pet him or even pick him up, and he'll calm down momentarily (just like if he's on my lap in the car he's much calmer). So this might be something he outgrows. He's such a confident little guy most of the time, this feels like just a little hiccup in his development, I hope!
Thanks again - love this forum for answers, information, and entertainment!!
Teach Charlie a hand touch. At home, put your hand down toward your knee, palm out. Reward him from your other hand with a tiny bit of his favorite treat for touching your open hand. No need to speak or give a command. It's a hand signal only. Make sure he's coming to your hand and touching it with his nose once he understands hand touch = treat,.

Don't let him fudge it. Keep your hand still, don't move your hand toward him or allow him to "miss." You have to be reliable in giving treats for a correct hand touch every time.

Poodles are so smart, Charlie can learn this in a few short training sessions at home, then expand his understanding for walks and other occasions in no time. Having this trick will distract him when he's antsy (impatient) on walks or wherever you are. He will learn to re-focus on you, the treat lady! Your job is to see that he's distracted and be ready with a treat when he does the hand touch.
 

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I am so interested in this!
I had similar problems many years ago. From my frustrating first hand experience:
Always stop the kind of things you are doing BEFORE he/she gets antsy. If you watch your dear dog very carefully you will see the signs. Do Not wait until he/she reacts.

It is up to you, not your dear dog, how long it will take to work out of this. If you are really alert and stop things before your dog reacts, you will be able to extend the period of time longer and longer.

Yes! It definitely takes a lot of patience on your part. But is so worth it!
 

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Teach Charlie a hand touch. At home, put your hand down toward your knee, palm out. Reward him from your other hand with a tiny bit of his favorite treat for touching your open hand. No need to speak or give a command. It's a hand signal only. Make sure he's coming to your hand and touching it with his nose once he understands hand touch = treat,.

Don't let him fudge it. Keep your hand still, don't move your hand toward him or allow him to "miss." You have to be reliable in giving treats for a correct hand touch every time.

Poodles are so smart, Charlie can learn this in a few short training sessions at home, then expand his understanding for walks and other occasions in no time. Having this trick will distract him when he's antsy (impatient) on walks or wherever you are. He will learn to re-focus on you, the treat lady! Your job is to see that he's distracted and be ready with a treat when he does the hand touch.
Thanks a lot for this suggestion. I don't think I've heard of this idea before, and I like it. It's a simple way to redirect his focus. This also might work in the car, although he might get fat if he figures out one whine equals a treat!! Appreciate the detailed response and I look forward to teaching him!
 

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I am so interested in this!
I had similar problems many years ago. From my frustrating first hand experience:
Always stop the kind of things you are doing BEFORE he/she gets antsy. If you watch your dear dog very carefully you will see the signs. Do Not wait until he/she reacts.

It is up to you, not your dear dog, how long it will take to work out of this. If you are really alert and stop things before your dog reacts, you will be able to extend the period of time longer and longer.

Yes! It definitely takes a lot of patience on your part. But is so worth it!
So, how to stop before he reacts? In the stopping-to-visit-on-a-walk scenario, I can calm him by picking him up, but he's soon antsy and wants down again. I could get him to sit or lay down but would probably have to continually feed him treats for him to stay. (Unfortunately, I haven't really worked on the "stay" command ... my own laziness. This forum is reminding me that I need to get more responsible in training!!)
And it's the same with the car anxiety. I need to spend time with him in the car while not anxious, which means we will be moving inches at a time before the whining starts, and might make the end of our long driveway after a month or so!
Thank you!
 

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The trick is many brief sessions, rather than pushing on with one long one. It may take 10 sessions before he settles in the stationary car, starting with just a few minutes and building up to half an hour, but at four or five sessions a day that is just a few days. Then several sessions turning the engine on - another day or two. Backwards and forwards a yard, and more nice boring sitting - day 5 and 6. By the end of a week or 10 days, with four sessions a day, you should be out of the drive and heading for a good place to walk. A few weeks now - the ideal time to work on training at home - will set him up for a lifetime of relaxed travelling - it is well worth the time and effort.
 

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FJM is right on the money. Short training sessions are best. And yes, continuous reinforcement is a valid training method. In a strange situation, tell the dog to sit, and give treats one after the other. As long as the dog is stittng, you are a continuous treat dispenser. Dog gets up, treats vanish. Dog sits, back to being a treat dispenser.

One thing I've noticed my students doing is holding a treat, luring with the treat, but forgetting to give the treat to the dog. Give the dog treats. Dozens and dozens of treats. Tiny treats, mind you. My dog's idea of a treat is the size of a pea sliced in half. I have tiny treats so I can give lots of them. I still use continuous reinforcement in high stress situations where I needed to reinforce calm behavior. There is nothing wrong with continuous reinforcement, assuming you know what you are reinforcing.

To predict antsy behavior, watch your dog like a scientist. Watch for what comes before the crazy behavior. Look for subtle shifts in body weight, different facial expressions, ear lifts, tail dips. What comes first? When you know what the first signal is, watch for it. Catch that first signal like snagging a butterfly in a net. The instant you see it, ask for an incompatible behavior, like sit. Then reinforce the sit continuously for several seconds. Praise and release. Keep walking, and when you see your dog throw you the uh-oh sign, ask for that sit again.

Remember to go on training missions. Those are outings where the sole purpose is teaching your dog. 98% of your attention is on the dog. 2% of your attention is on not bumping into things or tripping. On these first few training missions, observe your dog. Your dog is showing you so many things! If you stand still for too long, you get antsy behavior. Do you want to know why? Because... because... ready? Your dog is in limbo. You greeted a person, your dog greeted a person, wow, that was interesting, what comes next? Apparently, nothing comes next. Well, something has to come next. Look at handler. Nope, no instructions. This doesn't feel good. What am I supposed to do? I don't know. No one told me. This feels weird. I think I'm going to jump around like a nut. Or whine. Or bark, or spin, or pull. Because I'm in limbo here. What comes next?

Let's try that scenario again. You both greet a person. You wish to socialize more, so you give the dog a job to do. Sit. That's a job. Sit is work. Work deserves to be paid. So, go right ahead and continuously reinforce the sit. As long as the butt is on the ground, you're a treat dispenser. Anything other than sit makes the treats stop. But, keep your greeting brief. You have a poodle puppy on your leash. Poodle puppy clocks run faster than ours. You think the encounter is 30 seconds. Your puppy thinks that encounter was 3,000 seconds. Keep that in mind as you take your dog places and stay on puppy time. You'll be able to fade continuous reinforcement eventually, but it's ok to give a ton of treats to a youngster. If sit makes treats happen, your puppy will give you a whole lot of sit. :)
 

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FJM is right on the money. Short training sessions are best. And yes, continuous reinforcement is a valid training method. In a strange situation, tell the dog to sit, and give treats one after the other. As long as the dog is stittng, you are a continuous treat dispenser. Dog gets up, treats vanish. Dog sits, back to being a treat dispenser.

One thing I've noticed my students doing is holding a treat, luring with the treat, but forgetting to give the treat to the dog. Give the dog treats. Dozens and dozens of treats. Tiny treats, mind you. My dog's idea of a treat is the size of a pea sliced in half. I have tiny treats so I can give lots of them. I still use continuous reinforcement in high stress situations where I needed to reinforce calm behavior. There is nothing wrong with continuous reinforcement, assuming you know what you are reinforcing.

To predict antsy behavior, watch your dog like a scientist. Watch for what comes before the crazy behavior. Look for subtle shifts in body weight, different facial expressions, ear lifts, tail dips. What comes first? When you know what the first signal is, watch for it. Catch that first signal like snagging a butterfly in a net. The instant you see it, ask for an incompatible behavior, like sit. Then reinforce the sit continuously for several seconds. Praise and release. Keep walking, and when you see your dog throw you the uh-oh sign, ask for that sit again.

Remember to go on training missions. Those are outings where the sole purpose is teaching your dog. 98% of your attention is on the dog. 2% of your attention is on not bumping into things or tripping. On these first few training missions, observe your dog. Your dog is showing you so many things! If you stand still for too long, you get antsy behavior. Do you want to know why? Because... because... ready? Your dog is in limbo. You greeted a person, your dog greeted a person, wow, that was interesting, what comes next? Apparently, nothing comes next. Well, something has to come next. Look at handler. Nope, no instructions. This doesn't feel good. What am I supposed to do? I don't know. No one told me. This feels weird. I think I'm going to jump around like a nut. Or whine. Or bark, or spin, or pull. Because I'm in limbo here. What comes next?

Let's try that scenario again. You both greet a person. You wish to socialize more, so you give the dog a job to do. Sit. That's a job. Sit is work. Work deserves to be paid. So, go right ahead and continuously reinforce the sit. As long as the butt is on the ground, you're a treat dispenser. Anything other than sit makes the treats stop. But, keep your greeting brief. You have a poodle puppy on your leash. Poodle puppy clocks run faster than ours. You think the encounter is 30 seconds. Your puppy thinks that encounter was 3,000 seconds. Keep that in mind as you take your dog places and stay on puppy time. You'll be able to fade continuous reinforcement eventually, but it's ok to give a ton of treats to a youngster. If sit makes treats happen, your puppy will give you a whole lot of sit. :)
Oh My Goodness! You are the Poodle Whisperer!!! I loved reading this! Thanks for the insights into Charlie's busy brain!
 

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In the stopping-to-visit-on-a-walk scenario, I can calm him by picking him up
Ah ha! There you go. :) You've taught him that when he's anxious, he goes into the human arms. So imagine how stressful that is for him in the car, when he's anxious about what's next (or all the sounds, smells, and sights flying by, etc.) and he can't get to the place he's been trained to go when he's anxious.

Our poodles are always learning....for better or worse. When Peggy's doing something exasperating, I always think: Okay, how did I teach her to do that? And what's she getting out of it? Because dogs will always perform the behaviour that elicits the greatest reward.

Once I figure that out, it's much easier to train an alternative behaviour that satisfies the same need.

Or if the need itself is the issue (rarely) we can tackle that, too.
 

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You get the behavior you reinforce. Treat whining, you will get whining. Treat the sit, silent sit, not a whiny sobbing sit! Kontiki is right. Make sure you give a food treat when the dog is doing what you like.
 

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Ah ha! There you go. :) You've taught him that when he's anxious, he goes into the human arms. So imagine how stressful that is for him in the car, when he's anxious about what's next (or all the sounds, smells, and sights flying by, etc.) and he can't get to the place he's been trained to go when he's anxious.

Our poodles are always learning....for better or worse. When Peggy's doing something exasperating, I always think: Okay, how did I teach her to do that? And what's she getting out of it? Because dogs will always perform the behaviour that elicits the greatest reward.

Once I figure that out, it's much easier to train an alternative behaviour that satisfies the same need.

Or if the need itself is the issue (rarely) we can tackle that, too.
Charlie's learning, and I am too! Right now my latest way to comfort him is to sit in the back seat with him in the seat next to me. That way I can be near him without having him in my lap. He still whines, but less. And there are more and more times when he lays quietly. But there's no rhyme or reason when he's ramped up vs calm. When he's whining, it's like I'm not even there, he's just not happy (whether I'm talking to my husband, singing, ignoring him, or petting him and talking to him). He settles down whenever he settles down and I haven't figured out what changes for him. The funny thing is when my husband takes him for a 1/2 hour ride most afternoons in his little jeep (just to get out of the house), Charlie sits next to him and is mostly fine, only whines when he slows down for turns. For crying out loud, is it me??
In all my years with laid-back labs and one labradoodle, I feel a bit lost with how to help him not need me so much. I haven't found the magic elixir that allows him to not be on my lap AND not be anxious. I am planning on trying to desensitize him to the car gradually, but when we all go to town for walks almost every day, it almost negates the training! (We live on a busy highway, and there's nowhere to walk.)
But Charlie is growing and changing all the time and settling down in so many ways as he matures. For example, yesterday I dremeled all his nails - after an initial struggle (plus trying to lick the dremel), he settled right down for the 5-10 minute session. Even 2 months ago, it took several sessions for me to get them all done. I'm confident that with his car anxiety, that "this-too-shall-pass." He's added so much joy to our lives!
 
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