Okay, this happened to my son's golden retriever, but some research on the Web suggests it's not as uncommon as one might think and is not restricted to any one breed. And since Charley was basically brought up by Cassie the Corgi, who was his substitute mother for his first year of puppyhood -- and because Cassie shows some signs of a similar neurosis -- I wonder.

Charley the Golden Retriever has never been fond of riding in cars, but after my son bought a new Ford Escape he became downright phobic. That notwithstanding, Son didn't think much about it: the dog would be unhappy en route to a friend's house or to the vet, but as soon as he got out of the car he was fine.


Last July, Son decided to take Charley and go up to the White Mountain Apache Reservation, about a five-hour drive from lovely uptown Phoenix, where Man and Dog like to camp and fish. He packed a week's worth of food and gear into the car, installed the dog, and headed up the Apache Trail.

When he hit the Salt River Canyon, which you have to traverse to get up to top of the Mogollon Rim, he hit the dreaded Road Construction. They had the highway shut down and were making people wait for a couple of hours at a stretch to get through. At this point, he takes Charley out to walk around and pee.

Understand: he has not stopped anywhere to go into a bathroom or a restaurant or a store or buy gas. The weather in lovely Arizona is unholy hot, but the air-conditioning in the vehicle runs well and has been blasting away. He told me it was like a refrigerator inside the car, and I can testify myself that the Ford's AC creates exactly that effect.

When he gets Charley out, he notices the dog is huffing and puffing and seems stressed, but he doesn't think too much about it because the animal does dislike riding and is always visibly unhappy in a car.

When the cops let the traffic move again, he puts the dog back in the car and proceeds up the Rim.

Atop the plateau, he stops at a wide spot in the road called Snowflake, where he again lets Charley out to walk around and relieve himself. But...when he opens the car door, the dog falls out onto the parking lot pavement! He quickly discovers that Charley cannot stand up at all, and that he's disoriented and huffing and puffing. He calls me on the phone: "Mom! What is THIS?"

Mom says "Get that dog to a vet right now!" I find the name and address of the only vet in Snowflake, whose office mercifully is still open.

There, they find the dog has a temperature of 107.4 degrees: effectively, terminal hyperthermia. The vet tells my son to expect the dog to die. However, they put him on IVs and try to cool him down. Despite three days' worth of repeated warnings that the dog will probably die and even if he survives will never be well again, Charley manages to stay alive and after several days recovers enough that they can risk returning him to the Valley. Son's Father and Father's Wife drive up to Snowflake so that one of them can drive his car while he tries to nurse the dog down the hill.

Ultimately the dog ends up spending the better part of a week in a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital, to the tune of -- hang onto your hats -- $10,000. The dog lives, and although he probably will always suffer the after-effects of heat stroke (he can't walk far in the neighborhood, for example), he is more or less recovered.

So...the question is, What the heck happened to the dog to bring this on?

My son says the dog was never left in a hot car, and I can believe that: it would be completely out of character for him to go off and leave Charley in the car in 115-degree heat. He dotes on that dog, and he is neither stupid nor irresponsible.

A fair amount of study reveals that some dogs can develop such a phobia about riding in cars that they actually CAN work themselves into a state of hyperthermia. In fact, humans can do this, too: it's called "stress-induced hyperthermia." Sometimes doctors call it "malignant hyperthermia." (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46707100_Translational_asp...).

All we can figure is that the dog got himself so worked up that he self-induced a heat stroke. It's now impossible to ride him to the vet or anywhere else in a car without someone to help out, and even then...it's ill-advised.

Cassie the Corgi, I've noticed, is also uncomfortable about riding in a vehicle. She REALLY doesn't like it. Like Charley, she goes as far toward the back of the passenger compartment as she can get and hunkers up against the back gate, where she huddles looking downright bilious until we get wherever we're going. 

Don't know whether one dog could have acquired a neurosis from the other. So far the corgi has not shown any evidence of dangerous stress (but then I driven her more a few miles only once or twice). But she surely doesn't like it.

Have you ever seen signs of car phobia in your corgis? I mean really serious fear of riding in the car, not just "when are we getting there-itis"?

Have you ever had an experience where your dog became overheated because of stress?

If so, have you got any thoughts about how the animal might be reconditioned so that driving to the vet or a friend's house (say, five to ten miles) will not terrorize him to the point that he works himself into a stroke?

And finally...in any event, whatever your dog's breed, it's worth being aware that extended stress can apparently bring on malignant hyperthermia, which is very much life-threatening. If the pooch seems to get agitated by some activity, it's best to stop the activity.

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Poor guys! that sounds scary, what a way to start a trip :( im sorry this happened to you! I have not experienced something this severe but my cat Yoda would pant, drool, and cry when riding in a car. I ended up putting him in a bigger crate than the carry crates, and put a blanket over the kennel. after some time he would calm down so i could take the cover off.

is this something that your son can try with Charley? a crate with a cover over it? maybe have a passenger give treats to him during the car ride?

if he was a bit smaller i would suggest wrapping him in a blanket and carry him to the car and unwrap him once he was inside with some treats

has he always been like this? 

Poor Charley!   It's not hard to imagine extreme fear causing over-heating, especially the way dogs express fear (panting, pacing--- that's a lot of physical activity).

As for Cassie, it sounds like she is still at the stage where counter-conditioning can help her out.  I am quite sure she picked up on Charley's fear.  She knows he's afraid, she doesn't know why, but it seems to be something about the CAR and so maybe there is something scary.  Dogs are social animals and so they readily pick up on each other's fears and excitements; we use that to our advantage when we have a trained dog and use it to help teach a new dog something like recall or ball-chasing.

So for Cassie, I would suggest some version of this:

Get some really tiny extra -yummy treats (cooked real chicken, lean beef, a bit of bacon, some cut-up human cheese, whatever).   Get her excited about the treats FIRST but don't give her any.   Take her out to the car while keeping her focused on the treats.  Load her in, leave the car parked, feed a dozen or so of the treats while praising her to the high heavens, unload her and go about your day.  Lather, rinse, repeat.   After a couple of successful sessions, lengthen the time she sits in the car and lengthen the interval between treats.  

Then load her, start the car, leave it running but not moving, and do the same.

Then move on to very short trips (think around the block).  If you can't enlist a helper to drive the car, you can give her a treat she can focus on herself (spread a bit of peanut butter in the bottom of a small tupperware container or give her a loaded Kong or something). 

Increase your trips, decrease your rewards.  You might also add some ginger (in case she's motion sick) and try one of those calming sprays;  they do help some dogs.  I personally would not want to use one of the calming collars in a car in case it got hung up on something and caused panic.

Instead of food, you can use the car to give her a new squeaky toy or something too. 

They can try the same program with Charley but his fear is so extreme he may not accept food at all.   

As an aside, the best way to solve a phobia is to prevent it and when Jack was a puppy, his first car ride was leaving home and his second was the vet so we made sure we took him on short trips to fun places as soon as he had his shots.  We literally put him in the car and drove three blocks to the other side of the park by our house, for instance.  For many dogs, most car trips are for bad things and many get motion sick besides, so it can be a source of anxiety.   

I'm so sorry that Charlie and you son had to go thru this.  Completely frightening.  Sounds like he suffered some brain damage similar to distemper where the body temp gets so high.  Poor baby.

Brady is not fond of riding in cars.  When we brought home that first trip it was about 3 hours.  We had him in a travel crate because we had both Max and Katie with us (so they could meet him) and the last thing we wanted to happen was a 3 dog fight on the Mass Pike in the back of my SUV.  He didn't struggle when Mark picked him up to put him in the crate in the car. When I took him to our vet for a once over I had a horrible time getting him in the car and it was like that each time.  We took him for a 3 hour trip along with Max and Katie and it was hard getting him in and he was stressed the whole trip.  Trying to get him the back of the car on the way home was like a comedy show.  He sat down and planted his front paws in the dirt which is a funny site for a low rider corgi.  We used treats to get him up to the car so Mark could pick him up and put him inside the back.  Now I can willingly get him in the back seat of the car (on trips with 3 of them we put them in the back but I can't lift them that high when it's just me).  He still doesn't like to ride but he has calmed down and he is most willing to get in if he sees a treat.

We later learned, when the vets at the 24-hour hospital X-rayed every square inch of his body, that Charley had several ruptured disks in his back. These could have been like that before the event, or he could have injured his back when he fell out of the car. I suspect the latter...that would help explain why he couldn't stand up, and why he was kind of lame for a long time after he recovered enough to go home.

The country vet in Snowflake did think he had permanent neurological damage, but as time has passed, he seems to be getting over it. He still can't walk a long distance without pooping out, but he seems to be slowly recovering his strength.

Thanks! Will tell my son about the dog treat strategy.

A vet plus some of my readers at Funny about Money suggested a Thunder Shirt, which is a tight-fitting jacket that supposedly soothes a nervous animal. He hasn't tried that yet...I think he's now as scared to put Charley into the car as Charley is to go in there!


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