My older collie Finn came to me with a lot of baggage, fears and outright phobias which in some cases we have had to use medication to cope with. To put it into perspective at one point he had become so fearful of overhead planes that I had to seriously consider having him put to sleep as his quality of life was so appalling. Thankfully we have largely moved on from that dark place, although he remains over-sensitive to most noises.
One of our ongoing challenges is travel in the car. For various reasons, partly a small almost accident (4.5yrs ago) and mostly Finn's amazing ability to link fears and escalate them, Finn has struggled with car travel for much of the time he's been with me. His reactions are relatively unpredictable but he is most likely to react on a narrow, twisty road especially if the surface is bad or rough - however he has been known to have problems on straight but rough roads and its difficult to tell from a map or SatNav what the surfaces are like!
When I say reaction, I mean that he starts to pant, sits up in the boot (fully enclosed) and starts to look distressed, pressing against the side of the car (perhaps for reassurance? he does a lot of compression seeking when he is worried). Obviously as I am driving I don't always see this stage, nor is it always possible to stop the car. The full expression of his panic is frantic tearing at the bodywork of the car/dog guard etc. He is incredibly strong, and totally unable to hear anyone at this point. The dog guard is now bolted into the body of the car, and I have built a wooden protector as the back seats have been shredded resulting in cuts to his mouth etc :-( All of that took just 3 minutes in one episode.
We have been working with homeopathy, acupuncture and TTouch and initially this year I felt we were making some progress. Coping better in general and able to tolerate some more dodgy roads. Unfortunately as with all stressors, if other environmental stimuli upset him (low flying plane or child kicking a football) when we are away, then the return journey can become very difficult. He displays much of his anxiety in a physical way (low back, right side and right hip) which while the acupuncture relieves this, doesn't seem to stop it building back up again!
Re-evaluation as of this week:
I wanted to try and move Finn into the body of the car so I can observe him more clearly while driving, plus he seems worse if the car body is fully packed and he can't see me. After quite a lot of struggling with various sized crates I've had to opt for putting the back seats down, Finn in a harness and clipped on a medium length leash to the bolted down dog guard.
Yesterday was our test run - journey 1 to a local moor for our run together, short trip of less than 10 minutes each way. Journey 2 is the 15-20 min drive down a main road to our training class which Finn loves.
Thanks to all of the counter conditioning work we did two years ago Finn really loves jumping into the car, will do tricks in it etc and in fact is a chilled bunny until we start actually moving (as now I was working on my own with him and its hard training and driving at the same time!)
However once its clear we are going somewhere, a fine trembling starts up over his body, some panting, slightly unfocused eyes. Varies in ability to take food. Pressing body against the car. The trembling seems to stop within about 3-4 minutes and he is clearly less distressed on return journeys??
What I have learned: my inability to observe Finn previously led me to believe that he was in fact coping better than he really has been. Clearly he is distressed by travelling on any road and until I can help him cope better in easy situations its unfair to expect him to cope on a difficult road. I am working hard not to overblame myself for this, and am trying to focus on moving forward with Finn.
Next steps: make another appointment for acupuncture and homeopathy consultation in an attempt to reset his system. Discuss our options with the vet again.
Am also having a chat with a behaviourist up in Iverness, Scotland, later this week about another specialised CD of children/footballs etc for Finn and will mention the car travel issue then too.