Monday, September 6, 2010

Ask The Trainer - Totally terrified in the car

Question:  I got a call from someone asking about their dog and his terror of riding in a car. They go on a weekly weekend trip and he can't enjoy the wide open spaces of the destination because of his terror.

Answer: Here is the program I gave her.
A) First step - day one

Put Jake on a leash and lead him into the car. Count to 5 and lead him out. Take him for a short walk around the yard and repeat. Repeat this until he is anticipating going in the car or he doesn't want to get out at the end of your count.

up the time in the car to 30 seconds. Do the short walk in between each going in and out of the car. Don't let him control things, you control everything. If he tries to get out, keep him in for a count of 5 and then lead him out. The walk is to calm him. So if he starts stressing, keep him walking until he calms down. Calm is normal rate of breathing, mouth open with tongue gently laying on the bottom front teeth or hanging out and down. Tail floating between hanging straight down and half way up. Eyes soft and liquid. Again, repeat this until he starts anticipating getting in or reluctant to get out.

Up the time to 1 minute

up the time to 5 minutes. This time get him to sit while he's in there if he's not already sitting.

up the time to 10 minutes with him laying down.
Do this until he's comfortable laying down and is reluctant to get up and get out of the car for 10 minutes.
B) Next step is the treats. Hide treats everywhere. If you trust him off leash, then take the leash off and let him find all the treats both in and out of the car. Note what parts of the car he refuses to go near even with a treat there. Do this for a good 1/2 hour or until he is willing to go near at least half the areas he was reluctant about when you started this step.
C) Day two - Repeat step A with the car running in the driveway.

D) Day three - Repeat step B with the car running in the driveway.

E) Day four - Take Jake on a long walk, or otherwise get him really tired before you start today's process.

Put Jake on a lead and then put him in the car and take him around the block. Take him out and do the walk around the yard. Do this step until he lays down all by himself while you are driving.

Go around the block 5 times watching Jake. If he stands up, check his signals. Stop, no matter where around the block you are and let him out and walk him til he calms. Then get back to the house and walk him again. Repeat this until he either stays laying down the whole time or he is not exhibiting any calming or stress signals.

Go around 5 blocks once and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Go around 5 blocks 5 times and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Go for a 15 minute drive and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Go for a 30 minute drive and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Make sure on steps 3 through 6 that he stays calm the entire time. Stop immediately if he starts showing any stress and walk him until he is calm before getting back in the car. If he stresses on any step. Go back a step until he stays totally calm for that step.

He should be good to go at this point. Before you go on any trips from this point, get him really tired before putting him in the car. Start making it a habit to watch his stress level after this and stop the car and take him for a walk at the first sign of stress. By doing this you are letting him know that you are in control of the situation. A long time ago, when I was doing a lot of SCUBA diving and being on boats, I had someone tell me that motion anxiety happens because of the feeling of a lack of control. So now when I first get on a boat, I ask the skipper if I can drive for awhile. It always gets rid of the motion sickness. Obviously we can't do that with a dog. But dogs are happy if they know their human is in control and this is the way to show him that.

Calming herbs, aromas and nutritional supplements:

B Vitamins
Omega 3's
Bach Rescue Remedy

Things to remember with this process.

It's boring and repetitive and whereas we don't like boring repetitive tasks, dogs thrive on them. Ask any ball chasing dog why he keeps bringing back the ball just to chase it again :). So, if you can get the attitude that each time you do this that it's something you've never done before, it will help keep you from getting frustrated. Take breaks for yourself if you start feeling frustrated or bored with the process. Start watching Jake closer, look for every minor detail in his body language, see if you can spot the very first signs of stress. This keeps your mind busy.

In any process like this, whether it takes 4 days or 8 weeks of behavior class, there is always going to be set backs. We call them extinction bursts. Basically what happens is Jake will revert and it will be worse then ever - for a short while. If you stay calm when this happens, and it will happen approximately three times during the four days, he will get over this. After a year of freaking out in the car, it's become a habit he can't break. LIke an addict, on average a dog will say - but I've alway done it THAT way, I don't want to do it THIS way - three times before it completely extinguishes.

Don't talk to him during this whole thing except to say - in (get in the car), out (get out of the car), find it (find the treats), sit or lay down. Do not tell him "it's okay", "everything is fine" - all those things we tell humans when they get upset. No talking and no petting unless he's totally calm. Reinforce calmness - ignore stress. Especially don't say the words you've used with him in the past in trying to calm him.

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