Q: My 10 month old puppy refuses to get into the car on his own. I have to lift him up, and he is getting too big to continue with this method. Once he’s in, he’s fine and likes to ride with me. Anything I can do to change this?
A: Sure, Doug, this is fixable. Your dog’s behavior suggests that he isn’t comfortable with some aspect of getting into the car, so he resists. If your routine continues, I suspect before long he will stop even walking toward the car. He’s figuring out what the steps are that lead to him being put into the car, and begins to get apprehensive earlier in the chain of behavior.
Getting your puppy over this will include breaking the act of getting into the car into small, achievable steps, as well as some practice when you don’t have any time restrictions. In other words, practice this when you have no intention of going anywhere. This way, you’ll never need to resort to picking up your pup.
Begin with a hungry pup, then take a combination of yummy, smelly, hard to resist treats and kibble, and walk your puppy toward the open door of the car. Lower your criteria for success – don’t consider the goal behavior to be jumping into the car. In the beginning, getting close enough to sniff at the interior, or putting one or two paws inside the vehicle should be considered a huge success.
Stop well short of the car, and offer your pup some treats and kibble by placing a small handful on the garage floor in front of you. After he eats those, continue to walk a few steps toward the car, stop and offer some treats.
If at any time your pup resists moving forward, you must also stop – you’ve reached a point where he is uncomfortable, and you’ve got to give him time to learn to be OK with being that close to the vehicle. So no pulling him toward the car, Doug.
Drop a few more pieces of food for him to eat, and toss a few more a bit ahead of you, to encourage him to move closer to the car on his own.
Now here’s the challenge for you, Doug. When you’ve made some progress, and your pup is beginning to act a little more relaxed about moving toward the car, end the training session. That’s right, end it before you’ve achieved your goal. With fearful issues like what your pup is displaying, you’ll make far more progress overall if you end sessions at a low stress, highly successful point.
So, end the session, move away from the car, take your pup inside and relax or play with him awhile. Then have another session at your convenience, but only after some time has passed.
As you continue, your goal is to aid your pup in replacing his concern about getting into the vehicle with confidence. Each session begins the same, with the goal, assuming your pup’s body language suggests that he is comfortable with it, being to move ever closer to the car.
Once you’ve reached the car, the next step will be to drop treats – or maybe even place a yummy bone – inside the car within easy reach. Give your pup every reason to try to get in without you lifting him up.
At this point, another option is to open both back doors. If your pup is confident enough to put a couple of paws up into the car, you might run around to the other side and encourage him to move toward you. Praise and encouragement go a long way here, while pressure and tension will hold him back.
Remember, Doug, don’t be in a hurry. Your pup’s confidence will grow when given the opportunity to go at his own pace. Your job is to provide opportunity, encouragement, and good things to associate with getting into the car, like treats, toys and games. It won’t take long if you go about it the right way.
Good luck, and have fun with it!
Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.