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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ask the Dog Trainer:
Reducing Fearfulness in Car Travel

© Carrie Boyko
Don't Forget Fido's Safety Belt
Dear Terry:

My newest dog, Polly, is a big happy go lucky retriever mix that I adopted only a few months ago.  She gets on well with my other two terriers and all is happy until we get in the car. She becomes nervous and somewhat fearful. Her terrier housemates do not react this way, so I believe it came from an experience in her past that I cannot learn about. Can you give me some ideas on how to help her be less nervous about riding in the car. Sometimes she even puts the brakes on as I lead her there. She's an 85 lb girl that I cannot lift into the car easily, but there are times when she must go along. We could really use some help.

Thank you, Jim


Dear Jim,

Good time to ask this question just before summer vacation time.  If Polly is reluctant to get into the car, help her by getting her acclimated a little step at a time.  A clicker is great here to let her know just what she’s doing that’s earning her a reward.  Rewards are usually food but can be anything the dog REALLY likes such as a favorite toy or big praise.  Start way ahead of time to prepare her for when you really need her to get in.  Don’t wait till you have to take them all to the vet.

 I’d feed Polly as many of her meals as possible or a high value treat in or near the car.  She doesn’t have to get in the first few times, just put the food/treat/toy where she has to put her head in to get it.  Next time put the bowl/treat in a little farther so she has to get her head in farther.   Click just as she puts her head in to get food.  Move the reward farther into the car as long as she is willing.  If she balks, back the food out a little to where she was comfortable.  You may entice her all the way in sooner than you think.  Then take her for a ride to some place she’s really fond of – park, pond, around the block or to doggie friends.   If the only place she goes is the vet, she won’t want to go.

There are many mild elixirs like Rescue Remedy available from health food stores that may help calm her enough to make training easier.

A word about safety:  dogs and people are safer when dogs are secured in either crates or crash-tested seat belt harnesses.  They don’t interrupt the driver and they will be more secure in an accident.

Terry, PawsProf
Our ASK THE DOG TRAINER Column can be reached at
For more information on Terry Lynn Cuyler and her training, you may find her at Paws ProfA personal appointment with a trainer will likely provide more specific information on your dog's issues and your questions.

The PawsProf's advice does not replace an actual consultation with a qualified trainer.


Pup Fan said...

Such a good reminder about seat belts... it drives me nuts when I see a pup riding in a car unrestrained. So unsafe!

Dawn said...

Great idea! However, you may want to be careful with using food as a reward. A nervous dog will already have an upset tummy so adding food to it may not help - especially if the drive is long. Toys are a great idea.

Also, be careful about soothing your dog. Your dog may interpret your appeasement to mean that there really is something to fear. Pretend that there is nothing wrong with riding in the car and make it seem like as much fun as possible.

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