Training Mistakes in the Car - Positive Training Blog Hop

I'm excited to be a part of the Positive Pet Training blog hop! This time, the topic up for discussion is training mistakes. Do check out all the other awesome posts on this topic, they are inspirational!

Teddy learns new tricks and behaviors very quickly. That said, a few things in this world cause him anxiety and when in an anxious state of mind he can forget his manners. One of these things is the car. Teddy has a love/hate relationship with the car. He LOVES going in the car, but it can make him anxious. This is especially so on curvy roads or roads with a lot of visual distractions. Typically, when we're on highways, he settles right down and enjoys the view. He also enjoys having his head out the window and finds solace from having the wind rushing past his ears, but that isn't always safe or practical. Slow or curvy roads can make him pant excessively, bark, jump around, lick the window and generally look like a dog who has consumed a vast quantity of caffeine. Moreover, when already in this anxious state, he will often bark and lunge at other dogs he sees as we drive by.

As the driver of this car Teddy's behavior can be very stressful and distracting, so as soon as I realized this was an issue I started mitigating it. Initially I definitely made some mistakes.

Having your dog display anxiety can be stressful. Being stressed and in a small space with a loud dog, I would sometimes react with an equally loud and angry "no" or "bad". So basically, he had lost his cool and so had I. No one wins!

The other mistake I made was in the form of a calming cap. I read about calming caps/thunder caps and it sounded like a good solution. A calming cap is a cap that covers the dog's eyes to obscure what it can see, similar in concept to the blinders that you sometimes see on horses. I made one to fit Teddy and introduced it to him with treat rewards. The end result was that it didn't help him calm down at all! It quietened him for the minute it took him to get it off; meanwhile his anxiety was through the roof. Now I recognize that this was not a good solution for him, but at the time I persevered in hopes that it would help.

Now I approach things very differently...

We don't go anywhere until he is displaying calm behavior (if we can help it). If he runs up to the car very excited, he is bound to start the journey in an excited state of mind and I know how quickly excitement can tip over into anxiety.





Instead of getting frustrated with him for displaying anxious behavior, I help him to get out of that anxious state. He tends to chill out if he lies down. In that position he can self correct. So, as we drive the slow roads out to the highway a lot of "down, stay...good boy!" is said. Any time he starts to whine/bark/pant/lick the window he hears "down, stay....good boy!" Once he has calmed down he is allowed to sit up again and enjoy the view. Often, just a few minutes of lying down will eradicate his panting and center his mind. Meanwhile, I work on centering my mind and not letting it stress me out!


Lastly, I used to feel really embarrassed when Teddy would bark loudly and lunge towards other dogs as we drove by. Now I just remind myself that sometimes dogs will be dogs. They bark. If Teddy is barking at another dog because he is anxious, I care less about what other people might think and just focus my energy on giving him guidance to help redirect his energy. Calming him down and helping him in a happy and patient manner becomes my focus. If I can't do this safely while driving, I pull over and we collect ourselves before heading on our way again. If he is calm, we drive by other dogs without a peep (or maybe just a 'hello' bark instead of a 'you make me stressed' bark).





Although he still struggles with car anxiety at times, he truly does like going on car trips. Moreover taking my dogs in the car is a very real need, so we continue to work on it. It is a journey, in more ways than one!





Comments

  1. Great post! You definitely have a point that when a dog is displaying anxious behavior it can make the human feel very stressed. I know that I feel that way when my dogs are anxious, too! This past 4th of July weekend my dogs were so freaked out it was so stressful for all three of us! Good luck with your car training!

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    1. We need a dog friendly holiday for right after the 4th when pups and their humans can decompress together! Thanks for reading my post!

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  2. I'm sorry that the Calming Cap didn't work for Teddy. It does help Leo, but I think that's because we used to walk him with a Halti, so he was used to having something on his face like that. We only use it in the car. Sometimes he still barks at stuff with it on, and sometimes we leave it off and he doesn't bark.

    But it sounds like your solution is just as effective! Nicely done!

    And you're right. Dogs bark. I don't think anything of it when I hear a dog barking from a car, and yet, I'm so embarrassed when Leo does it.

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    1. Calming caps still seem like a good option, just not for Teddy. One time I tried a halti on him and got a similar anxious response. I'm glad to hear it works for Leo! Isn't it great when we find a solution that does help!

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  3. Thanks for joining the hop! Have you tried LAT (control unleashed) with him? I don't know how it would work in a car unless you have another person with you but it would be good to build up to.

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    1. No, I haven't tried LAT. I'll have to read up on it, thanks for the suggestion! We do some clicker training, but so far not in the car.

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  4. Thankfully we learned from day one to put on our seat belt, and lie down while in the car. Sure, we can sit up or turn around, but no standing, no barking. The first few times we tried to get rowdy or bark at something, Mom hit the brakes just hard enough to get us to lie down. It only took a few times and we got it and always behave in the car.

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    1. Great! You sound like good car passengers! The poodles wear their car harnesses and get belted in as well. That helps Teddy not to jump around,but the car can still be a stressful place!

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  5. Our Luke loves to ride in the car too, but he reacts to many different things...people walking, and especially other dogs. He goes a bit nuts and I just experienced some of that embarrassment today. I did remind myself that many dogs bark at us when they go by in cars too, so I do have to cut him some slack. But I probably should have pulled over and made him calm down, though he relaxes as soon as the perceived threat is out of sight!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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  6. Oh wow I can completely relate to car issues. It's something I've been trying to work on much like you - with some calming techniques - but we still have a ways to go. I love that you say dogs will be dogs, I'll definitely have that in mind next time my dog barks at another dog as we're driving by. It's easy to get distracted by what's going "wrong" rather than just trying to fix what's going on in the moment.

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  7. As you know, Ruby has issues in the car as well after waiting far too long, a travel crate has been our solution. I don't know how it would work for a much larger dog, but it sounds like you're making some great strides with your training methods! Thanks so much for joining the hop this time around - it was our most successful to date which explains why it's taken me so long to get around to everyone's wonderful posts!

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