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Pet Travel Hazards: Overstimulation

Crying babyThose of you with kids will sympathize … you know when you take a baby somewhere with a lot going on and she is mesmerized by everything around her? And then you take her home, way past her bedtime, and rather than crashing she cries … and cries … and cries some more? Overstimulation. The same thing happens with dogs – it’s one of the unspoken hazards of pet travel.

We’ve noticed that when the dogs are away from their home, their schedule, and their normal stomping grounds, it’s easy for them to get overstimulated. It’s not rocket science – for a moment imagine you’re driven by your sense of smell and that your nose is thousands of times more sensitive to scents around you. You’ve grown accustomed to the aromas of your home, and (to some extent) your neighborhood – but visit a different city, stay in a hotel or friends’ home, walk routes you’ve never tread before, and you’d be blasted with enough new odors to blow your mind.

Overstimulation: How It Looks In Real Life

On Friday we left the Winnebago in Austin, loaded the dogs into the RAV4, and headed down to San Antonio for the weekend. We made several stops along the way, giving the boys a chance to stretch their legs and sniff the sites, and made it to our hotel just in time to feed Buster and Ty their dinner.

After a long day on the road, you’d expect them to be tired (and, let’s face it … Ty was. He’s always been a good sleeper.) but Buster was all keyed up! He sniffed the entire room. Several times. Checked out the sofa. Inspected the bed. Charged up and down the hallway from the bathroom to the living room and back. Admired the view from the balcony. Got a drink from the toilet. *I didn’t get there in time to stop him!* It took Buster about an hour to relax enough that he could lay down, but every time Rod or I moved, he was up again to see what we were doing.

Ty Sleeping in his bed

Zzzzzzzzzzzz

Buster

Whatcha doing?

Saturday was gorgeous, and Rod and I were looking forward to spending the whole day exploring the city. Armed with our maps, camera, and sunscreen we took off on our adventure. The boys were understandably drawn to every bush, tree, and patch of grass we came upon, so we waited for them to satisfy themselves with the particulars of every dog who’d passed this way. After all, they were on vacation, too!

After a couple of hours we noticed the dogs were both pulling on their leashes, neither was even registering our “heel” requests, and both had stopped exploring their surroundings. Treats could not even capture their interest. They’d reached the point of maximum saturation. They needed a break. We beat it back to the hotel and decompressed – for all our sakes.

Beware of Overstimulation

Buster is our sensitive boy, and we could see how just putting him in a different environment at the hotel was enough to fire him up. Ty is more resilient (or oblivious), but even he’s affected after a few hours scouting a new place. We had a good laugh about the time we walked the Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon and Ty was barreling through people on this way back to the Winnebago. It was clear he’d had enough!

Depending on how much you travel with your pets, their personalities, and the level of animation of the place you’re visiting, your pets could also become overstimulated when you travel.

It’s Not Fatal

The good news is, overstimulation is not a fatal condition … you can still take your pets along for the ride! Here are a few tips to help your pets go with the flow.

  1. Bring something that smells like home – A blanket, a favorite toy, or your dog’s bed – pack something that smells familiar to help your pet relax in a new place.
  2. Make a home base – Let your dog explore his temporary home until he’s content. Whether it’s a pet friendly hotel room, or the guest room at your in-law’s, you want the place you’re staying to be a sanctuary where you can all relax. The idea is to use your body language to convey that message to your pup. So, when you arrive, don’t be in a rush to dump your luggage and run – put up your feet, grab a book, or take a nap. The sites will still be waiting when you’re all ready to see them.
  3. Be patient – When you’re traveling, you need to remember you’re not at home. Expect to spend a fair amount of time watching your pooch sniff his surroundings. Remember, your dog is not being difficult or obstinate. He just has to follow his nose!
  4. That’s a relief – When you’re in a new place, pick a spot you want your pet to relieve himself and then use that spot for the extent of your stay. Giving your dog a consistent place to do his business will help avoid any confusion about where you want him to go.
  5. Take breaks – Be on the look out for behaviors that indicate your dog has reached his intake limit – acting distracted, relapsing into old behavior patterns, and forgetting his obedience skills are all indications it may be time to for you and your pet to find a quiet place to unwind.

Walking a dog whose overwhelmed by his surroundings isn’t fun for anyone. But, with a little care you can make sure you all have a good time on your next pet friendly vacation!

Has your dog experienced overstimulation? What brought it on?

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  • Georgia was definitely like Buster at the beginning of our Christmas road trip and more like Ty by the end of it. She slept so much as the days passed, I was sure she’d succumbed to the tropical heat like the rest of us! I was very glad we lugged her crate bed [complete with her 2 mauled stuffies] with us. She was left alone in the house a couple of times with no problems. At least, none of the neighbours complained ;) At the pet friendly motel, she was like a dog on drugs. Sniffing everywhere, ears up, head cocking at all the noises next door, barking herself…You know, I thought a lot about you guys on our trip. I can see how travelling with dogs can become addictive :)

  • That is really hard – especially because I imagine the events are held in different locations all the time. If it were a class (like Maggie posted about on OhMyDog this week) I’d think she might get used to the building and start to relax. But when you’d have to take her to a new place every time – that’s too much. Buster would be exactly the same way if we tried to do agility with him. Ty, on the other hand, would focus all his attention on the food. Unfortunately, my little sofa slug isn’t very athletically inclined. =)

  • There is so much good information here. Overstimulation is a hard thing to recognize sometimes and even with all the experience I have with my dog I can forget how overwhelmed she can get after only a brief period. She is very quick to remind me! We experience this a lot when going to new environments and she has difficulty handling too much new at once, especially if she can’t work out her anxiety through exercise. This overstimulation comes into play most frequently during agility events when most of the time is spent sitting around waiting for her turn: Shiva’s nightmare scenario. We’ve worked a lot with her on this but it still remains a huge challenge, unfortunately. It means we’re not able to do as much with her as I’d like, which is a definite bummer.

  • Sometimes, no matter how comfy a new bed is, the old one is better because it smells like home. I hope you have a great time on your trip, Sugar!

  • Sugar GoldenWoofs says:

    Woof! Woof! We moved 2x (in a home) last year. I (Sugar) took a while to settle. After the arrival of my old beds, I relaxed and felt safe again in my new environment. We are traveling soon and will be staying in a hotel fro a couple of days … the hotel is known for their beds. Will see. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  • I feel for you with that cold weather. When we were in Pennsylvania, Rod would walk the dogs most of the time just so I didn’t have to go outside … cold makes me crabby. And, I think you’re probably right about the overstimulation with your little visitor. It’s tough to manage those situations, because you want to be there for your family, but it really put poor Morgan over the top. I hope you’re write more about what you find out with Morgan and if you’ve discovered anything that might help her. I’ve been thinking about you guys!

  • What a great post, and such true words! We have definitely had overstimulation here, probably most recently with our overnight baby visitor and with cabin fever during this cold snap!

  • We just rented a beach house for the weekend with the dogs. We’ve found that when renting a new place, we have to plan to stay put for about 12-18 hours so that they get used to the new place and are able to relax a bit before we go anywhere. The first night, Hurley whined anytime I shut a door between him and me and followed me absolutely everywhere. By the following morning, they had all relaxed and we were able to do some exploring with and without them for the rest of the weekend.

  • Great post. And so true.I was slow to recognize when Honey was overstimulated as a puppy when she came to my office. The “tired dog is a good dog” saying echoed in my head so much I failed to see her as an overtired toddler.When we travel, I don’t take Honey everywhere with me, although I would like to. After all, her normal routine is to sleep most of the day.We also tend to rent a house instead of staying in a hotel. It feels more like home and doesn’t have the noise of people coming and going in the halls.

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