fear of cars

Run Like the Wind, Izzy!

As everyone in the U.S. knows, the whole country is experiencing some frigid weather, and it’s only going to get worse.  Though Izzy seems to get invigorated by cold weather, I don’t, so when we had a chance to visit a fellow writer in Durham this weekend, we took it . . . especially since that writer has a dog and a fenced-in yard.

Izzy hates riding in the car.  As soon as he knows we’re going somewhere, he commences shivering.  Nothing helps.  I put on his Thundershirt whenever we have to take a ride, I’ve bought him a sheepskin seat that basically boxes him in so he’ll feel safe, and I’ve given him treats.  Still, he shivers.  But since going out in the car often results in a positive experience, I keep taking him (though it breaks my heart to see him sitting beside me, tongue hanging out, his little body shivering and quaking as if he is convinced I’m taking him somewhere that will result in pain and horrors beyond imagination).  Funny, because he rarely goes to the vet’s and absolutely loves going to the groomer’s and our visits to friends far outweigh the vet visits.  I think it’s the actual traveling itself that has him terrified, which is why I bought the seat for him.  Suffice it to say, he’s going to continue traveling with me, shivering or not.

Yesterday’s visit resulted in a pure, unadulterated treat for him.  Our walks are always leashed.  Rarely does he have the pleasure of running freely since he cannot seem to get himself to listen to my calls to “come” when he’s free.  Being in a fellow dog’s fenced in yard is something akin to my feelings of bliss when I have a dish of salted caramel ice cream topped with hot fudge in front of me.  Orgasmic!

Nothing makes me happier than seeing my little guy running as fast as he can, ears flying, tongue hanging out, eyes bright.  If he could, I’m sure he’d be yelling, “yippppeeeeeeeee!” as loudly as he could.  You know how sometimes you can “hear” a dog’s voice without actually hearing it?  Some dogs have deep, Southern drawls (basset hounds), while others have foreign accents (poodles) and others are likely to be intellectual (bulldogs) while some would sound like hippies (yellow labs).  I imagine Izzy’s voice to be fast and chatty,  an adolescent’s nonstop silliness in a high-pitched, friendly, happy tone.

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He still glances at me questioningly whenever I open the door to my friend’s backyard, as if to say, “You’re coming too, aren’t you, Mom?” but to see him enjoy being a dog with Alfie, my friend’s rat terrier/bully mix, is worth driving him shivering to the next doggie play date.

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Fly, Izzy, fly!

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The Kennel and the Car. Izzy’s Fears.

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Izzy upon arrival in North Carolina, 2012

Izzy’s only a little more than two years old, and he’s been working on some fear issues ever since he moved in with me.  I’m proud to say that he’s come a very long way from burrowing deep in the kennel and not wanting to come out when we picked him up at the airport.  He also doesn’t growl and bark at new people like he used to.  Instead, he wags his tail and wants to say hello.  That’s a biggie!  But there are a few things that still bring out the fear.

Over this past weekend, I had to travel to Cincinnati for a college reunion and brought Izzy to the kennel where he has stayed on occasion since he came to me.  The people who run the place are fabulous.  They love him and worked really hard with me when he first went there in order to get him socialized.  At one point, I came to pick him up and found him in the owner’s office, sitting on the recliner.  Yes, he got under their skin like he has with me.

But the kennel isn’t next door to my house.  It’s a half hour ride, which means Izzy needs to get into the car.  That’s not fun for him at all.  When we first started dealing with the issue, Izzy was so frightened of the car that he would literally not even walk by it (and he knew which car was mine) whenever we went through my apartment parking lot after going for a walk.  I spent hours trying to get him to walk around the vehicle, but he sat his butt down and pulled his whole sixteen pounds against the leash.  He would not — for love or money — get into the car unless I forced him.  I knew that wasn’t a good idea, but no matter what I did, nothing got him past the fear.  I spent hours with him, enticed him with treats, sat in the car when it wasn’t running, made sure we went on short rides to “good” places (like my girlfriend’s house where he could run in the back yard with her Jack Russell).  

Nothing worked.

Then we went to obedience school, and one night, I was telling the instructor about Izzy’s fear of cars.  When he rode with me, he would need to be carried into the car, and then he would get up on the glove box, lean against me and drool/pant frantically until we got where we were going.  Usually, those trips were to the kennel.  It doesn’t take much detective work to realize that he soon linked the car with the kennel.

Heidi worked with me that night, and together, we found a “fun” way to get Izzy into the car.  I ran away from it, then turned around and ran toward it (the passenger door open) and when we arrived, said, “Up, up, up!”  Izzy jumped right in.  From then on, it was easy.

But this past weekend, when we went to the kennel (for the first time in months), Izzy didn’t want to go inside.  He finally did, and I didn’t think much about it while I was gone.  When I came back, it was a different story.

Izzy came through the door to the office where I stood, and I bent down to say hello.  His tail tucked between his legs, and his whole body quivered.  The women who were checking me out started making cooing noises, obviously sympathetic to my little shivering Shichon.  

I knew I couldn’t take him in the car immediately, especially in the shape he was in, so I sat on the bench in the lobby and asked him to come up on my lap.  He tried, but the slatted bench wasn’t familiar, so he gave up.  I patted him and talked to him a while longer, but his quivering became worse.  It was as if he knew he would have to go into the car.

Having just driven 10 hours, I wanted to get home, so I paid my bill and took him outside.  He saw the car and immediately pulled in the other direction, both his head and tail lowered.

It was lightly raining, but we trotted up to the end of the long driveway.  I let Izzy take a good look (and sniff) at the horses in the meadow across the road, then we trotted back to the car.  He seemed a bit more comfortable, but not relaxed.  

“Up, up, up!” I said, and Izzy obediently jumped in, though he still shivered.

All the way home, he quivered and drooled.  I felt horrible for several reasons.  I hate driving with him on the glove box, for one.  If I have to make a turn or a quick stop, he has no traction at all.  Secondly, his fear seems amplified, and I don’t want him to associate the car with a negative end.  Thirdly, I had just gotten home and wanted him to be comfortable.

Once we were home, he had a walk and got settled back in the house.  Within minutes, he was back to his playful self, finding his favorite tattered red ball and bringing it to me.  But I think that the next car ride will bring back the same fears.

So, research this week . . . on good car seats that will allow him a view of the outside and some security.  And I think the next time we go to the kennel, he’s going to be wearing his ThunderShirt to keep him calm.