Service Dog Column: Car rides can be terrifying for dogs

The “Christmas pups” are learning their names with a delightful couple who are volunteering during several of their coffee breaks a week to get the message across. I did see an attempt or two to get pups in the car for the first car rides.

The widdle pups that are a month younger had their first run around the yard after mom. The helpers have to learn that the trainer in the front calls the puppies. The trainer in the middle must not call the last bunch because they will, in actual fact, be calling the first bunch backwards.

Think that one out. This is a constant problem!

Car rides become such an important part of a service dog’s life that we have to pay special attention to that travel phase. Carsickness can never be an issue, so even as young pups have to do short rides. From the pups’ perspective, it goes like this:

One or two rides in the golf cart with Carlene’s arm around us to explain to us that jumping out is not an option. And if we just ride it out, all will be well.

Then car rides. Getting in is a big step! Sometimes we need a lift, and we can’t quite see out the windows. It can get noisy, smelly, and scary.

Those great big trucks on Route 95 may be nothing to you, sitting up there looking at the road in front of you. Well, if you and your siblings are packed in the back seat, and you see those monsters coming at you, you would think twice, too!

(It can take a while for the pups to get used to the Route 95 phase, so if you see one of our cars going slowly on 95, you can figure we are encouraging trucks to pass so we can just get some pup used to the fact that even the air pressure changes as they whiz past.)

Once we can stand that, train rides are just more noise, and airplanes are very confining between the seats. However, neither are a problem as long as they give us cookies to start and just before we stop (which they call landing).

The other amazing thing is to get in a box with your trainer and stand perfectly still. When the doors open, you are somewhere else!

Carlene White is founder and president of the non-profit Service Dog Project on Boxford Road in Ipswich. She trains and raises Great Danes to donate to the mobility impaired. Read more of her columns here.