Car sickness in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

car sickness in puppies

Car sickness in puppies is relatively common, and whilst it is largely something they will ‘grow out’ of, it can be unpleasant for them, and us! Not every puppy will suffer with car sickness, however many do. But why does it happen? And what can we do about it?

Firstly, what exactly is it? Well motion sickness is the feeling of nausea, resulting in vomiting due to the motion of ie. a vehicle. It does not always present itself as actual vomiting, other symptoms may include dizziness or general feeling of nausea. Motion sickness is more prevalent in younger dogs than older, and generally it will have subsided by the time a dog is around one year old.

But why does it occur in puppies? Well there could be a few reasons:

1. Ear development – there is a possibility the parts of the inner ear relating to balance aren’t fully developed, resulting in a feeling of nausea
2. Anxiety – our pups have spent the first weeks of their little lives in a stationary, home environment with their mum and siblings, without prior conditioning it may feel hugely overwhelming to travel in a car/van
3. Conditioned emotional response – if the journey home involved vomiting etc, the likelihood is the pup now associates the car with something quite distressing, thereby heightening the anxiety level
4. Ear problems – there could be a slight infection within the ear, or some kind of medical problem relating to the auditory senses causing sickness when in motion

These are just a few ideas. Motion sickness is something us humans suffer with too, and largely it is seen more in children and ‘grown out’ of just as with puppies. With humans, motion sickness can occur when there’s a vast difference between what is being seen through the eyes , and what is being heard by the auditory senses. In simple terms (because I am no doctor!) the conflict between sight and sound is confusing the brain and the result is a feeling of sickness. For your puppy, the trauma of leaving all it has ever known, his littermates and mum, may well be associated with a car journey when you left the breeder. If the stress of this causes sickness during the journey too, we now have a puppy who not only found the car distressing due to the loss of his family but also a place which made him feel quite poorly! We can see why cars may become a bit of a ‘scary place’ to our pups.

Gradual habituation to travel is essential. As stated above not ALL puppies will suffer with car sickness, however if we at least condition our pup to travel in a calm and relaxed way, we minimise the possibility of any stress when travelling. Once your pup is home, you can really start to work on introducing your pup to the car in a positive and gradual manner, showing your pup that the car does not always move, good things happen in the car, and if we get in the car it certainly doesn’t always mean we are going to the vets (something which is so often the case when we have a pup!).

So, what measures can we take to ensure a smooth and positive exposure to travel?

  • Know the signs – motion sickness is not purely about vomiting, there are other signs to look out for such as whining, drooling, licking lips and panting. Watch out for these, if you feel your pup may be about to vomit, just pull over and give your pup some air.
  • Gradual exposure – don’t attempt 30 minute drives to start off with, start with very short journeys in the car, a few minutes at a time preferably. Start by simply putting your pup in the car without even switching the engine on, reward for calmness and any settling behaviours offered, repeat a few times. The next day maybe switch the engine on but don’t travel anywhere, the next day possibly drive to the end of the road and back etc etc. Ensure your pup is RELAXED throughout the process.
  • Use a secure crate/carrier – not only to provide a stable and calm environment for your pup, but also for safety, an anxious pup will likely move about a lot more!
  • Stillness – keeping as still as possible is advised for us humans when we have motion sickness, so ensuring your pup has more of a chance of keeping ‘still’ is a good idea!
  • No food prior – try not to feed your pup for a couple of hours before journeys.
  • Keep windows open – fresh air and a breeze may help.
  • Toilet! – make sure your pup has had adequate opportunity to go to the loo before journeys.
  • Have a special ‘car toy’ – try to have a special toy which your pup only has on car journeys, really showing him that the car is a fun place to be after all!
  • Anxiety aids – there are such items ie. Adaptil collars for helping to calm anxiety in dogs, the scientific evidence showing the efficacy of such products is varied and certainly not conclusive, however there are people who swear by them so worth a go I feel!
  • Water – ensure you have water readily available for your pup.
  • Drive well! – ensure you take corners and roundabouts gently and be mindful of sudden stopping or accelerating too harshly!
  • Not ALWAYS the vets – ensure we don’t get into the habit of only taking our pups out in the car to go somewhere ‘bad’! It’s easily done, but be sure to go to places your pup takes pleasure from in the car too,

If you feel your pup suffers with severe motion sickness, I would advise seeking veterinary advice. There are medications which can help if you feel your pup is struggling beyond the ‘normal’ realms of a bit of car sickness. Your vet will be able to guide you through the medications, and indeed advise as to whether or not it is needed.

Most pups do, as I said, grow out of car sickness. It is not pleasant, but by following the above guidelines hopefully your little pup will start to not only build up more of a positive association with the car, but even learn to enjoy car rides due to the added fun of his ‘car toy’.

For more information, just get in touch!
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Treat delivery in puppy training – Cambridge Puppy Training

treat delivery in dog training

We’ve talked before about how many rewards are at our disposal; treats, toys, life rewards etc. We’ve also talked about how important it is to reward within approximately 1 second of the marker! Quick quick! But HOW you deliver your treat is quite an interesting topic too. I know, it may seem crazy, but just bear with me and it will all become clear.

Largely, our puppy does something we like, we get a treat from our pocket/pouch and we put it in their mouth. Simple, right? Not much variation there, right? Wrong. There IS a lot of variation with how we deliver our treats. How we deliver that treat can effect our dogs motivation, either raising it or lowering it, it can effect our pups excitement levels, and it can also effect our pups behaviour.

Now, bear in mind, I am purely talking about TREAT delivery. There are many other types of rewards that I urge you to experiment with and indeed utilise to aid in your pups training. However, for this article, I’m talking treats!

If we really think about it, are there not lots of different ways to give a treat?

  • from pocket/pouch to mouth in a fast movement
  • from pocket/pouch to mouth in slow movement
  • from closed fist to open fist
  • throwing/tossing a treat behind the dog
  • throwing/tossing a treat beside the dog
  • throwing/tossing a treat to the face in the hopes they catch it!
  • put on the floor in front of dog

Now, if we look at these in a bit more detail:

  • From pocket/pouch to mouth in a fast movement – most commonly used, especially in puppy training. May increase a ‘grabbing’ behaviour by puppy, fast movement = excitement. A more distracted/laid back puppy may however benefit from this.
  • From pocket/pouch to mouth in slow movement – increases a calmer response, a relaxed delivery makes for a calmer puppy. Overly excited or ‘grabby’ pups may benefit.
  • From closed fist to open fist – pup doesn’t get treat until fist is opened. Useful for encouraging ‘gentle’ cue. Can help with excitable pups who just want to have the treat right this second! Good points: encourages calmness before delivery. Bad points: may increase frustration.
  • Throwing/tossing treat behind the dog – can help with teaching behaviours where you need dog to go out and come back ie. starting off targeting. Dog will go to get treat, upon return you can encourage the behaviour you are working on. Not wise to use this if you have an easily distracted pup, he may not turn round to come back again!
  • Throwing/tossing treat beside the dog – useful, but not to be used repeatedly or pup will be inclined to default in that direction, may start to predict treat delivery by ‘going’ that way. Will be hard to rectify later on in your training!
  • Throwing/tossing treat to the face – keep dog interested and motivated, be careful of treat ‘hitting’ dog in the face! Sensitive pups may find this a bit distressing! Try to only use if you know your pup has a good catch. May encourage pup to jump up for treat as likely ‘jump’ to catch treat, minimises chance of ‘all 4 on the floor’.
  • Put on the floor in front of dog – great for grabby pups, keeps all 4 on the floor and encourages pup to look to the floor not your hands for reinforcement.

There are more I am sure! Feel free to add to my list if you use another technique. There are however things to consider in all of the above. Say, for example, you have a very very bouncy and quite hard mouthed puppy. The first option, from your pocket to mouth in a fast movement, may well result in a puppy accidentally catching you with his teeth or claws. Fast movement, we have said before, may incite more excitability in an already excitable pup. However, try the same in a slower movement, and you may find the puppy is somewhat calmer in their ‘grabbing’ behaviour. Additionally, a ‘grabby’ puppy may benefit from the treat being put on the floor in front of them. If you have indeed marked the behaviour you wanted, it should not matter if your pup moves to get the treat, remember the marker ends the behaviour.

Throwing or tossing a treat is a popular method of treat delivery and I indeed sometimes do this with my dog. However, and this is a big however, be mindful of the exercises you are doing, in what environment you’re doing them and how good your pup is at finding the treat! If I am working with my dog on my own, in my garden or on a walk, I may well toss a treat, this can help to keep my dogs interest, she’s quicker to revert her gaze back to me post treat, and she’s keener. If, for example, I am in a training class, I need a certain level of calmness and I need a bit more focus and control, there are other dogs around us and you must respect that, I can not be tossing treats all over the place in the hopes she finds it! Highly distracting for people and dogs around me. Additionally, if you are moving through exercises at quite a pace, again, make sure your pup is quick to find the treat or you will spend 10 minutes waiting between exercises.

If you have an anxious pup, or are in a high distraction environment, it can indeed be useful to put the treat on the floor in front of your pup. Not only does your pup HAVE to divert his gaze from the surroundings (to look at the floor), the process of sniffing can be calming in itself.

Delivering a treat from a closed fist to open fist is not only useful when teaching a pup to take treats gently, it may also help calm the process generally. If you add in a slow movement, you are then creating a much calmer treat delivery system than, for example, throwing it.

It’s important to get your pup used to taking treats in lots of different ways, as the way you deliver them throughout your training will likely change depending on the context in which it is given. You will need your pup to be fairly fluent in many different types of food delivery, and be able to cope with all fairly well. A puppy doesn’t just ‘know’ how to take treats appropriately just because we offer them, he just sees it in front of him and goes for it! We can not expect this will be something he does ‘well’ without a little prior training. So, we can train our pups, to take treats………..I can hear how crazy that sounds, but there is method in my madness!

Be mindful of the need we have for focus/eye contact. We aim to encourage any kind of focus in our dogs don’t we? When holding treats in your hands prior to delivery, aim to keep your arms bent and your hands at your belly button. Hanging your hand down to the side, or waving your hand about with the treat in your hand, will likely encourage jumping or grabbing behaviours. This, in turn, will create excitement. Seeing something of high value and not being able to get to it, without any prior impulse control training, will cause frustration and eventual disinterest, so be mindful of where your hands and treats are.

I cover treat delivery and how to encourage a gentle mouth in my 1-2-1’s, for more information just get in touch!


Luring, shaping, capturing or targeting; dog training techniques explained – Cambridge Puppy Training

luring shaping capturing or targeting in dog training

So many ways to teach behaviours and so little time! I’ve covered all of these in various blog posts in some way, and if I’m honest, I find a mixture of all of them to be beneficial. The behaviour you’re trying to teach is, for me, going to dictate how you teach it. For example I may start off with a lure, then progress into shaping too, all the while using some capturing alongside! But does it matter which of these techniques we use? Is it not dependent purely on the behaviour we are teaching?

Luring is by and large one of the most popular ways to train. It’s kind, effective, easy for novice owners, and builds confidence for owners who are unsure of how or what to do. Luring has it’s downsides however, I have said before if we do not phase that lure out pretty smartish, we end up bribing and find we have a puppy who will only perform certain behaviours when there is a lure in front of his nose! Do we really want our dogs to only walk beside us when we have food? No. We hear it a lot, “my puppy will only do it if I have a treat”. What has happened? Our pup sees no point, no need, indeed there is no reinforcement in his eyes, for performing a behaviour without a treat on his nose. Furthermore, your pup has been so conditioned to performing behaviours with a treat on his nose, he may not even understand HOW to perform a behaviour without that lure. It’s not his fault, he has been taught that he only needs to perform a behaviour when there is a treat clued to his little tiny nose! Also, it has been said using lures encourages a pup to work/focus more on the food rather than the actual behaviour being performed, possibly taking them slightly longer to establish a behaviour.

Shaping is a great way to train, this involves marking and rewarding tiny little increments of a behaviour until you get to the finished result. For example, if I’m teaching my dog to hold a toy, I will mark and reward her for merely looking at the toy, then mark and reward for sniffing it, then for mouthing it, then for picking it up, then for holding for 1 second etc etc until you have a fairly established ‘hold’ cue. You can lure to encourage the pup, mark and reward, then phase that lure out and merely shape the rest. If you are teaching something particularly complex, indeed this would be much easier. You can prompt, moving your hand via targeting to a certain area to encourage your pup that way without a lure, so you at least have something to mark and reward. However, if you are purely free shaping, so no lure or prompt, merely waiting for any slight movement toward the desired behaviour, and you have a specific behaviour in mind which is quite difficult, you could be waiting a pretty long time for something to reinforce and run the risk of the pup losing interest or giving up based on the lack of reinforcement. So, luring or prompting will increase the likelihood of you having something, any tiny little behaviour towards the end desired behaviour, to reinforce. This will build confidence in the pup, he is getting things RIGHT, we are making it easier using lures and prompts for him to choose the right path leading to success. If we are indeed shaping without a lure or prompt, so ‘free shaping’, the pups focus is purely on the behaviour being performed, not so much on the treat/reward at the end. Free shaping is great fun for getting your pup to experiment with new behaviours, we mark and reward any behaviour he performs with him offering lots of different things to gain reinforcement. Your pup learns he can affect the environment by performing behaviours to gain rewards! All of this builds confidence. So your pup offers behaviours, we mark and reward them, and we turn it into a fun new trick or behaviour on cue! The possibilities are endless!

Capturing is also a really good way of reinforcing desired behaviours. We wait for a behaviour to occur naturally and mark and reward when it does. For example, if we are training a sit, we wait until our pup naturally sits down of his own accord, we mark and reward. The more this happens, the more likely our pup is to offer sits in the future. We then attach a cue word to it, ‘sit’, and voila! We have a sit cue! However, if you are aiming to teach a pretty complex and somewhat challenging behaviour, you may never get the opportunity to capture anything at all. If I am teaching my pup to weave through my legs in an 8, and he has never actually walked through my legs of his own accord, I’m probably going to need some kind of lure or prompt. So, capturing relies pretty heavily on the behaviour being fairly natural and fairly frequently offered. Perfectly do-able with simple behaviours, not so easy with complex ones.

Targeting is a fun way to train! We teach our pups to target something, usually our hand with their nose to start off with, then progress to a target stick and from there we can encourage them into all sorts of places or positions by following the target. This is fun, effective and minimises the possibility of our pup only performing behaviours when there is food in front of his nose. However, a target is effectively a prompt, and as with a lure it will largely need to be phased out. Again, as with the lure, we don’t want our pups to only perform a behaviour with the presence of a prompt, we need to ensure that target is phased out just as quickly. So, using the earlier example of training our pup to weave an 8 through our legs, if my pup will ONLY perform this behaviour with a target in front of him guiding him, it’s not going to be a very established behaviour! However, if I can start training it by using a target, then phase out that target and keep shaping and capturing (they do like to offer behaviours when they know it might be reinforced, cheeky!), the behaviour will be performed on cue without a target and possibly with a small hand signal. Target training doesn’t involve our pups following lures, so the focus isn’t so much based on the reinforcement at the end but the actual process of the behaviour being learned. This may possibly increase the speed at which a behaviour is learned. Although our pup is still working towards the reinforcement (the treat at the end), the focus is far more on the actual task in hand rather than the bit of sausage on his nose! The food doesn’t encourage a pup to work, the target does, and that can’t be a bad thing can it? Targeting can be helpful in, for example, habituating a pup to a harness. We can encourage our pup to offer his head through the harness with a ‘touch’. Often, we ‘put’ something like a harness over a pups head, he cowers his head down and looks a bit put out, and we’ve already started to build up a negative association with a harness, albeit a small and gradual association. By targeting, and encouraging our pup to OFFER the behaviour of putting his head through, we’re giving him a choice, and setting him up to make the right one.

As I previously stated, when training your own pup I think you will find you chop and change and mix things up hugely. Unless you are a seasoned professional in target training or a free shaping genius, I don’t believe you will stick to purely one method of training. I, personally, find that whatever I am doing dictates what method I use. If I am teaching something particularly complex, I’m definitely going to be using lures or prompts, at least to begin with. If I’m teaching something that’s offered pretty often and naturally occurring, then I’ll capture it. Don’t get too bogged down with the whys and wherefores, it’s just good to bear in mind the pros and cons of all training techniques and how we can use them to our advantage.

For more information about anything discussed or the services I offer, just get in touch!