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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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  • Vittorio Sheridan says:

    Sage is a beautiful 3 year old American Pit Bull. A female with a white coat an brown patches. After having helped her and her owner move to a new location, I had the distinct displeasure of experiencing Sages instance of over-stimulation. To allow my friend to rest from the move. I volunteered to walk Sage, after she had lapped down two bowls full of water. Equipped with the leash and Doggie Poo Bags, we struck off on an adventure to the Smoothie Station, for my recharge. They had just moved from a quiet, lowkey gated community, into an urban area with high padestrian, and driver traffic, repleat with commuter trains that run every 10 minutes. This was midday rush our. I, having casual experience through watching other peoples animals here and their, hadnt the experience of animal temperment and adjustment requirements into new environments. The animals I had the pleasure of keeping, were all acustomed to living in high-stimuli urban settings. Sage had, a few months prior, come from the kennel, where she was taken after her previous care-taker, who had died of old age ailments had taken her.

    My friend didnt think to inform me of Sages propensities and temperaments either. She is always sweet to everyone I’ve seen her interact with me. And she loves to see me coming, because I am the uncle always baring treats and gifts, with lots of hugs, rubs and affection.

    In retrospect, the first clue that she was about to have a moment, was when she tugged hard on the leash to the point that it broke at a weak spot. I had to tell her to sit several times, to get her to sit so i could re- adjust her collar and leash, so I could get to my smoothie. I never had to tell her more than once in the past. So off we go walking, as she sniffed every inch of side-walk on the way to the West End Mall. We turn the corner onto the main street, and i notice she would walk ahead of me to the point of tugging the leash, as if she was about to dart. I would firmly tug and she would fall back next to me. We crossed a few corners into heavier foot and auto traffic.

    As we approached a major, high-volume intersection, Sage had become very distracted, and was looking around with bewilderment at all of the people, the trains, the restaurant smells, and automobiles. She had totally ignored my tug commands which normally would get her moving in the direction I need us to go. When she refused to move and sat in the middle of the cross walk, i knew i needed to get her to a quiet place to calm her. I also knew that no smoothies would be had at that moment, as that destination requires getting across the street. And she had totally refuses to walk at that point.

    I picked her up, to get us out of the middle of he street and back onto the sidewalk, from where we had just stepped. When I put Sage back on the ground, i kneeled in front of her, and directed her muzzle to me to force her to make eye contact, to get her to calm down and walk. That worked a little bit, and we began to walk again in the direction back home. But as the light turned green and the cars began to move, was the tipping point. She darted onto the curb tugging hard at the leash, her front paw slipping into the street. I reached down and had to pull her back onto the walk way. I drug her behind a business to sit down for a while, so she could calm back down. When i was sitting down, the leash slipped from my hand, and he immediately darted, running back in thw direction home. Tongue flayling, slobber flying everywhere, she ran faster and harder away from me. Her leash retracter clacking, and clanking against the grown, running by the people we had just passed. I hollared and screamed her name, and she would stop and look back occasionally. At this point she was about a block and a half ahead of me. And had crossed two intersections, thankfully without any harm. She having four legs, I knew I could not catch her, unless she allowed me to. Which, clearly, at that moment she didnt want to be cought. I began to run down any options i could think of, with fear that she would either be lost, or hit.

    At that point i called my friend, pulling him out of his slumber, to explain the current situation. He immediately materializes in his car, at the intersection in front of me. We are both on the phone and shouting at each other as I explain the direction Sage had run in. She was running up on another major intersection, past the street we had just moved her to.

    My friend speeds off , whipping the car around the corner and up on the curb to block Sages path. She immediately cut around the back of his 300 into on coming traffic, which had stopped behind my friends car which was half in the street, and half on the curb. As Sage was rounding his car, eyes wild, tunge flayling, and seemingly smiling, enjoying every minute of the commotion she had caused. My friend jumps out the car, and snaps off her name clearly, and loudly. This stopped her dead in her tracks. She immediately came to his feet and sat, in the middle of the busy rush hour traffic, totally oblivious of the anger, and fear for her she had caused, in me. He opened the back door, and she leaped into the back seat, and happily sat down to stick her nose out the window. Panting loudly.

    I walked back to the house, and was at the drive way, as they both were pulling up. We walked in the house, all three of us colapsing on the love seat, in exhaustion and relief. And began to discuss dinner options for the evening. Obviously NOTHING, was being cooked at that moment. We were both ravenous, and too exhausted to tend to a hot stove.

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Wow, Vittorio, what an adventure Sage took you on! I’m so relieved to know that everything turned out alright. And I’m sorry you had to learn about overstimulation and panic in dogs in such a frightening way. Being her uncle, you couldn’t have guesses at Sage’s limits, but for us dog owners it’s important to understand our pet’s comfort levels and work to expand them slowly and carefully to avoid just that kind of incident! Give Sage a nice belly rub from me the next time you see her, and thanks for your note!

  • 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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