Ask the dog trainer: drooling and whining is no way to travel

Dear Kendal,
I’m at my wit’s end with Harlem, my 185 pound English Mastiff. It starts as soon as I turn on the car engine, with a torrent of drool and a mad gasp. He starts moaning as we pull out of our driveway.
By the time we reach the first stop light, it screeches and runs back and forth across my now soaking wet back seat and the whole car shakes and the windows fog up. It was bearable when we were going to the dog park just down the block, but we have a four hour trip planned for this summer and I cringe at the thought of my in-laws’ expressions as I look at them. attaches to the rear seat. next to Harlem and head south. To help!
slime area

Dear slime zone,
A cross-country experience with your in-laws sounds stressful enough, but what you’re describing would drive a man to drink. Rather than turning to the bottle, I would suggest a daily vehicle excitement desensitization routine combined with a few safety strategies.
The first step would be to rule out any medical issues and discuss the behavior of the Harlem car with your veterinarian. Drooling in dogs can be a sign of motion sickness, and your vet may be able to provide relief and help Harlem feel more comfortable.
Begin Operation Car Desensitization by sitting inside your vehicle with Harlem in your driveway. Do not drive anywhere. Don’t even start the engine. Just sit back and wait for him to calm down.
The first few sessions, it will take him some time to relax, so I suggest bringing a good book or listening to some music. When he’s laid down and is calm, open the car door and drive home. Repeat up to three times a day until he isn’t so excited just by being in the car. Then start the engine and stay in your driveway, wait for it to relax, then drive home. Gradually progress until you can leave your driveway and explore the open road.
Besides the daily desensitization of the car itself, you can also give it tasty and long-lasting chews or feed it its meals in your back seat. This will help her make a positive association with the sights, sounds and sensations of the experience. You can also experiment with window blinds; some dogs are hyper sensitive to movement outside the car and the covers help diffuse their excitement. I also suggest investing in sturdy, waterproof seat covers to reduce the potential for Harlem slippage and protect your seat padding.
A safety addition you can easily incorporate is a harness that clips into a seat belt, a barrier you can install between your rows of seats, or a sling that cradles it securely. This not only prevents it from jumping on your lap while driving, but also protects it in the event of an accident.
My final tip is for when you’re standing in your driveway this summer, car keys clutched and visions of the upcoming road trip flashing through your mind. If you’ve spent the past few months working with your vet, systematically desensitizing Harlem to the car through training, and have a method to secure him safely, then you’ll be fine. Otherwise, well, next year, go on a cruise.
Good road!
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For more information, visit or email

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