Winter Car Travel and Static Electricity
I think we've all experienced painful static shocks when exiting our car after driving for a while. They sure can hurt! These shocks happen commonly in the colder, lower-humidity winter months.
To understand why static electricity builds up during car travel, and for simple tips on how people can avoid that awful shock when exiting the car, check out this article.
Our poor dogs can be recipients of these nasty shocks as well, and I believe it's possible that some can be painful enough that a dog will be reluctant to get in the car after experiencing it.
I'm currently working remotely with someone who has a gorgeous and ginormous Newfoundland, and we both suspect his sudden fear of getting in the car has to do with receiving a nasty shock. He took a recent drive to a park that he always enjoys, but when he got back to the car after a fun hike, he refused to get in. In fact, he refused to enter two other cars as well.
Prior to this event, he had a long history of lots of enjoyable car rides to many fun destinations. He had never previously showed anything but enthusiasm about getting into the car.
Can you imagine a 150 lb. dog who outweighs his owner saying "NO" to getting into the car? You can't just lift a non-cooperative dog of that size into a car against his will. It ultimately took two strong men to help him into the car just so the owner and dog could get home after a 3-hour delay on a very chilly day in Michigan.
Once he was finally back home, he showed no signs of physical injury to account for his reluctance to enter the car. He was up to his usual activities, including climbing and descending stairs, and playing with another dog in the home. No signs of illness or injury.
His owner will be working on the gradual process of building his confidence about entering the car again, using lots of positive reinforcement and going at his pace so he remains relaxed throughout the process. But when he's once again comfortable about getting into the car, we want to do our best to prevent any more shocks.
When reading up on this topic, I came across a number of suggestions to help reduce static electricity in the car. While I don't have personal experience with these strategies, they seem to be safe options that make sense. Here are some recommendations:
Apply spray starch to the upholstered surface of car. There are simple recipes online for making homemade spray starch. If you use a commercial brand, leave car doors open for a while to air it out after spraying, well before the dog gets in.
Lay a 100% cotton blanket over the area of the car where the dog will be. The cotton is said to be less likely to get static build-up compared to some other fabrics. (And, in case there’s something not-so-great about a dog making direct contact with a commercial spray starch, you’ll be covering the upholstery anyway. (If you have concerns about the spray starch, speak with your vet first.)
Use an anti-static/detangler spray on the dog's coat before he gets in the car. (Two of the many brands available are Petway and The Coat Handler.)
Use a plug-in ionizer for the car. Not only is this supposed to reduce excess static electricity issues, it's also supposed to help eliminate car odors.
Consider using a portable, cordless humidifier in the car to add some moisture.
I'd love to hear from you if you've had success with any of the ideas above, or with other ones entirely. Please share your successes!
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, along with pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies.
She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120