I received an email from a reader the other day who asked what to do as she had a dog that went absolutely bonkers in the car – to the extent that it had partially destroyed the back seat of the car by biting and tearing out of sheer excitement, the owner said. In addition the dog spun around, lunged and barked while in the back seat. As she lived in a really out of the way place with no behaviorists anywhere near her, I attempted to assist by way of giving her some basic instructions to follow and thought these may be of interest to other people who have the same problem.
The owner had tried keeping the dog in a crate and also a car harness attached to the seat belts and neither of these worked - the dog became frantic at being restrained in any way. She was so worried about the dog landing on her while driving that she had a barrier installed in the car between the front and back seats to prevent this from happening. The car was being systematically destroyed, however the dog loved its walks so much and once out the car was well behaved, that she really did not want to stop taking the dog out, but had run out of ideas as to what to try.
It transpired that the dog had always exhibited this behavior from the day it was adopted, received daily walks (taken there by car) and at other times the dog was quiet, well behaved and never exhibited the lunatic behavior, and on the way back the dog was quiet and well behaved in the car.
On asking a few questions, it was established that the over exited behavior started the minute the owner took out the lead to take the dog out, so this was our starting point.
Here is a summary of the work that the owner undertook and the result was that within a two-week period (with plenty of practice on a daily basis) she had a dog that lay quietly in the car on the back seat or on occasion sat up and looked out the window.
- Owner changed the place where the lead was kept continually
- When lead was produced and the dog started getting over excited – the owner just dropped the lead on the floor and walked away. This was repeated over and over (and did I say over!)
- Eventually the dog just stood and looked at the owner. The owner then requested the dog to Sit and the lead was put on. The second owner tried to do this the dog resumed the excitable behavior and this time the lead was attached. Owner repeated as above and just walked away dropping the lead on the floor – owner only went back to resume the exercise when the dog was quiet.
- After a few times the dog sat quietly when the lead was attached. The owner was then instructed to keep the dog at her side (if the dog went in front pulling would occur) and step by step make the way to the door to go outside. If the dog pulled at any stage, owner to stand absolutely still until dog was quiet. This was repeated until the dog would walk calmly and quietly to the car.
- At the same time the owner was told her to achieve a Down and Wait.
- The dog was now entering the car quietly and lying down and owner sat with the dog with the door open – the time period was built up accordingly. To make this easier for both the dog and the owner we suggested that the owner use the Avalon Pure Travel Spray. This spray helps with carsickness, fear of the car, and also the stress associated with travel – I was pretty sure that it would assist in lowering any stress that may have been associated with the car and also the over excitement – just a case of bringing in an additional tool to help the owner and dog be successful.
- Next step was that owner went and sat in the front seat while the dog was in a Down/Wait in the back seat. The car was stationary the whole time. It is simply impossible (and dangerous) to train a dog in a moving car. The dog was rewarded with quiet praise “good settle” on a regular basis and owner was encouraged to keep up this work inside the home.
- What occurred next was that dog was supplied with a Kong, which had been stuffed with delicious smelling goodies to chew on in the back seat.
- Next step was owner went up and down the driveway and if the dog reacted, the car was stopped – dog told to Down.
- The owner now started making short trips around the block and each time she came back home, the delicious Kong was taken away – the dog was taken out the car and back into the home. The Kong was only used for car trips.
- Gradually the owner extended the distance and within two weeks the problem was a thing of the past and the dog started to Sit up and look out of the window in addition to chewing on the Kong. Owner repeatedly gave the cue ‘good settle’ to the dog – remembering to reward with praise the behaviour the owner did like.
It was recommended to the owner that the ‘Good Settle’ was practiced on a regular basis and that the dog was never allowed to enter the car when excited.
Time period this will take - how long is a piece of string! It depends totally on the work the owner puts in and how consistent they are. Under no circumstances is the dog allowed to perform the previous behaivour in th car, so daily walks are not an option while the above exercise is taking place. The owner needs to find other ways of working off excess energy. Additionally, the above may not work for every single dont and other aspects may need to be brought in. Good luck if you decide to try this yourself.
(Scotty is founder of www.friendsofthedog.co.za, a canine behaviour consultant and TTouch practitioner and offers private consults, workshops, Canine Behaivour Foundation Course and Canine Behaviour Shelter Course. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 073 735 0469)