Training Your Dog Not to Be Afraid of Car Rides
I was in Palm Beach Gardens yesterday fixing a Dog Guard Out of Sight Fencing® System for an old client and his Pit Bull, Lola. The system had been installed over 10 years ago and some roots had finally grown and broken a section of the underground perimeter wire. I have a great tool that allowed me to locate and repair the broken wire very quickly. Within a few hours, the system was up and running and ready to keep Lola safely contained for a long time. As we were finishing up, I had mentioned that I was also a professional dog trainer and that my wife and I had trained over 3,500 dogs during the last eleven years. Since I was a dog trainer, he said he had a “non-Dog Guard” question for me. It seemed that Lola was happy to stay in the yard, but she had a very big problem when it came to riding in the car. Since she is a sixty-five pound Pit Bull, it is hard to “push her” into the back seat. She had always been this way since being a puppy and he wondered what I would suggest.
My client had made a classic mistake made by many dog owners. He had assumed that Lola “should” like car rides. He always sees other dogs in cars, so why shouldn’t his Pit Bull naturally love to jump in this big piece of metal weighing thousands of pounds, zip around town at high speeds, and make funny, scary noises in the process? Lola had been trying to tell him for years that she wasn’t comfortable in the car and his forcing her into the car did nothing but heighten her sense of fear and eliminate any possibility for learning and positive socialization.
I explained to my client that his actions had (unknowingly on his part) heightened Lola’s fear and strengthened her resolve not to want to be in the car. The good news is that Lola still loved and respected him. This bond meant that he still had the ability to teach Lola that the car could be a safe and secure place. His challenge was to follow a lesson plan that slowly took Lola from her “happy place” of not being in the car to her “I am afraid place” of being in the car. As with any successful lesson plan, it needed to be simple, linear, measurable, and adjustable. This meant that we would work on “baby steps” to slowly introduce the car and never push Lola past her learning event horizon.
Here are the steps that I suggested for Lola’s car socialization lesson:
- Have the car in the driveway with all the doors open. Put a standard leash on Lola and simply walk her around the car. Never approach the car at a point where Lola will start to pull away.
- Continue this process for a few days. As Lola becomes uninterested in the car, decrease the distance of Lola’s path and the car. Mix up the walking so that sometimes she is walking right next to the car and sometimes she may be eight to twelve feet away. This helps to show her that the car “means no harm”.
- After another day or two, walk around the car, come up to an open door, and stop. Don’t coax her in just yet. Walk her to the next open door and do the same. Continue this process for a day.
- Now, have some of Lola’s favorite toys and some “food goodies” on the seat of the car. When he walks her up to the open door, allow her to see the goodies. If she jumps in, that is great. If she simply sticks her nose in and takes out the toy or goodie, that is great too. This shows that she is slowly breaking down the negative connotation of the car.
- Repeat the above process and slowly move the toys and goodies farther inside the car on the seat. This means that Lola needs to stick her nose farther in or jump up on the seat for the goodies. He can also have a family member on the other side of the car encouraging her into the car. He can also toss the other family member the leash and have that person give a slight tug on the leash to coax her in.
- After Lola is happy to jump in the car for the goodies or toys, get in the car and sit on the seat next to her. Close the doors and just sit there for a few minutes. Open the door and both exit. Repeat the above process until Lola shows no heightened anxiety regarding having the doors closed. Repeat this for a day or two.
- Now, I told my client that it is time to add the initial audible part of the socialization. He should repeat the exercise where he and Lola are in the back seat and the doors are closed. Next, have a family member get in the front seat, start the engine and turn on the radio. This emulates the next step of the car ride. He should be with Lola and should distract her from the sounds while focusing her on her toys and goodies. They should repeat this for a day.
- The following day, he should follow all the previous parts of the lesson. This time, the driver should put the car in gear and slowly back down the driveway. They should pull on to the street and drive to the end of their property. This still allows Lola to see that she is still “home”. They should do this several times that day or until Lola shows no negative distraction from the car’s movement.
- Now, perform all the above steps, but take Lola for a five or ten minute ride. Try to stay on somewhat quiet streets without a lot of peripheral noise or too many people walking past on the sidewalk. Repeat this for several days, taking different routes and adding to the distractions outside.
- We have now socialized Lola to the car ride. It is time to socialize her with the destination.
- Go on the car ride but go to a somewhat quiet place like an empty parking lot or closed store. Stop the car and take Lola out of the car (on the leash). Walk her around for a few minutes, allowing her to sniff and explore. Try not to allow other dogs and people approach. Repeat this for a few days at different locations.
- Now, simply repeat the above steps, but add more people and sounds to the destination. I told my client to take Lola to places they would normally go. This could be the Veterinarian Hospital, Starbucks, picking up the kids at the bus stop, etc.
I explained that all these steps should be done slowly and he should never force Lola to do anything. She needs to take small steps to build on the fact that more and more complicated distractions can be just fine. If she ever starts to hold back, he needs to slow it down and even take a step or two back in the lesson plan. The goal is to have Lola happy with the car. There is no time constraint on the result, simply its achievement.
Proper, recurring socialization is what our mothers used to get us happy to the ride to the market. A very similar process can be effectively used with the same great results for our dogs. We are always here, ready and willing to answer any question you may have regarding dog training or underground dog fence training. You can go to Dog Fence Training Help Palm Beach Gardens South Florida or just pick up the phone and call us at (954) 472-4724. There is much more dog training tips and underground dog fence information at Best Out of Sight Dog Fence Trainers Palm Beach Gardens South Florida. Robin and I are especially proud that we have helped over 3,500 dogs and their families in Palm Beach Gardens and all over South Florida through great behavioral dog training and underground dog fence training. If your dog loves to stay home but doesn’t listen to you, check out our behavioral dog training programs by visiting Home Dog Training Palm Beach Gardens South Florida.