Hey guys! I could use some advice on making car rides a better experience for Piper.
Currently, we put her in a plastic travel crate in the back of my Subaru, with the seats down so she can see us in the car. First off, it's a struggle to even get her in the crate. A stuffed Kong, treats or any of her toys don't seem to do the trick. So, we basically scoot her in and shut the door before she darts out (not good, I know). She'll whine and grumble for the first 10-15 minutes, and then she'll start to calm down a little and munch on the treats. We've tried talking to her when she' calm and putting radio on, we even lower the windows a bit so she can feel the air. I'd like her to have a better experience in the car because my boyfriend and I would like to do a roadtrip with her, but not if it's too stressful for her.
Any advice would be most appreciated!!
Just keep doing it, same routine every time. She'll be less anxious if she knows what to expect.
Is Piper crate trained in general? If not, you'll want to pursue that with her so she associates her crate with only the good things in life - sleeping and eating. It's very useful to have a dog that cooperates with going into its crate: moving the dog while it's injured into the crate for an emergency vet trip can be worsened if it struggles with being put inside. It's also very useful to have a dog who knows to be quiet when being moved across long distances, no matter the transportation type.
If Piper is crate trained (which I doubt if she's putting up a fight to go inside it), then set it up in the car and feed her out there, spend some quiet time with her while the car's not moving. I helped speed up Ace's relationship with his crate by lying in front of it all one afternoon, just browsing the internet and occasionally tossing treats inside of it. Sometimes I would forget to toss a treat for so long that he had nodded off a little bit, and the treat bonked him on the head. Eventually being in the crate became a very soothing experience for him, and now when it's bedtime I just have to tell him to go to his crate and he'll run in and pass out. :)
Piper is crate trained. We have a wire crate in our apartment that she sleeps in. We decided not to feed her in it, because she can be a tad messy at times. But we always give her tasty treats when she goes inside. She just seems to respond differently to the plastic crate in the car than the wire crate at home (we also cover the wire crate with a sheet, so it feels homey). I'm guessing we just need to spend more time with her and the crate in general so she gets used to it.
Swap out the two crates! You could try giving her dinner in the plastic crate while in the car, just use your hand if it's kibble. Let the crate door remain open, lead her in with some treats, ask for some quiet if she starts snuffling. Continue to reward tranquil behavior with her dinner, and do not block her in! She'll soon realize that despite there being an avenue of "escape" available, it's best to stay put inside the crate because that's where the good stuff happens.
It is possible that the treats you are giving to her are just not high-reward enough to overcome her desire to get out of the crate on car trips. Toys are also a bit of a gamble as they can be completely ignored (as Ace does) once they're inside the crate - no one's there to play with them, so why bother?
PS: One thing that I found works well was using calming signals as a second means of communication with my pup. Yawning, slow blinking, and turning your head away all help the dog perceive the environment and situation as non-threatening, even relaxed. This can really help accelerate the process of liking one's crate, no matter where.
We ended up bringing the travel crate into the apartment to get Piper used to it the other night. She was in and out of it all night, with no problem. The evening was spent with her finding all the treats that I had thrown in there on previous car rides :) The crate is definitely not the issue. Even when we closed the door, she was fine. It's only when we move away from the crate and turn our backs does she start to whine. I guess we'll just have to work on that aspect now, and play with her in the car, too.
Yeah, this is proofing! You'll need to get comfortable with her in the car and take it slowly, so you don't further aggravate her issues with being in there. Good luck, I know she'll learn fast. :)