How do you stop car reactivity in dogs?

Answered by Robert Dupre

To stop car reactivity in dogs, it is essential to focus on building patience, reinforcing recall, establishing a strong “leave” command, building trust through heeling, limiting freedom on walks, and avoiding ingraining bad habits. Here are six tips to help you achieve this:

1. Use mealtimes to build patience: Incorporate training into your dog’s mealtime routine. Make your dog wait before you place their food bowl down, gradually increasing the duration. This helps teach them impulse control and patience, which can translate to better behavior around cars.

2. Make recall a positive experience: Engage in recall training in a controlled environment first, using treats, toys, or praise as rewards. Gradually increase the distractions, including cars passing by at a distance. Reinforce the recall command consistently and reward your dog for coming back to you, strengthening their association between cars and positive experiences.

3. ‘Leave’ means ‘leave’ in any situation: Teach your dog a solid “leave” command, which means they must ignore and move away from cars. Start in a controlled environment using a toy or treat as a distraction. Once they understand the command, practice it around cars, rewarding them for complying. Consistency is key in reinforcing this command.

4. Building trust through ‘heel’: Train your dog to walk calmly beside you, reinforcing the “heel” command. This creates a stronger bond and helps them focus on you rather than being fixated on cars. Gradually introduce cars into your training sessions, rewarding your dog for maintaining the heel position and ignoring the passing vehicles.

5. Don’t allow your dog too much freedom on walks: It’s important to limit your dog’s freedom during walks, especially when working on car reactivity. Use a leash that allows for control and keep your dog close to you. Avoid areas with heavy traffic until your dog is more reliable in their behavior.

6. Beware of inadvertently ingraining bad habits: Be mindful of unintentionally reinforcing reactive behavior. For example, if your dog barks or lunges at cars, avoid scolding them, as this may increase their anxiety and reactivity. Instead, redirect their attention to you or use a calming command, rewarding them for their calm behavior.

Remember, training takes time and consistency. If you notice your dog struggling or regressing, don’t hesitate to go back to basics and reinforce the foundational commands. Consider seeking guidance from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist who can tailor a training plan to address your specific situation.

Personal experience: I had a dog who was reactive to cars, and these tips helped me significantly improve her behavior. By consistently reinforcing recall, leave, and heel commands, and limiting her freedom on walks, she became more focused on me and less reactive towards passing vehicles. Patience and consistency were key in her progress.