Behavior modification for “real” life”

I am busy Wednesday morning trying to get Deuce ready to go sheepherding.  I know that if I do not leave in a few minutes I will be late.  I have Deuce on a leash as we step outside the front door.  He puts on the breaks. Darn!  The car issue is becoming worse.

For some reason Deuce has developed a really bad association with getting in the car.  When he was a young puppy he struggled with getting dizzy while riding in the car, so now I don’t know if his aversion to riding in the car has been conditioned by that past experience. Or it might be something completely different.  Perhaps once he tried to jump in and he missed injuring himself.  Now, the car or jumping in the car spells trouble for him.

By looking at him I realize that he is really stressed and really not interested in going for a ride. Try to convince him that we are going sheepherding!  I try to do so by showing him his orange vest which he wears so that he can be seen by the occasional car as he gathers the sheep.

Clearly, he has not made the association that the only time he gets to wear his fluorescent vest is when he goes sheepherding as he decided not to budge from where he was standing.

It gets complicated when a dog for whatever reason does not want to get in the car  because sometimes we must take them places.  In the case of Deuce we must get past this hurdle because once he is in the car he is comfortable and besides, he enjoys going places and getting in the car is of course needed in order for him to enjoy walks in town, sheepherding, etc.

So how is one to proceed when we must take the dog in the car yet, we do not wish to force the dog in any way? This is kind of tricky but it does not have to be if we think this thru.

The fact that dogs are such avid discriminators is an asset for training in “real” life.  The goal here is to make it very clear to the dog that sometimes he has a choice as to if he wants to get in the car and sometimes he does not.  As I have stated many times before: Dogs thrive when they have a choice or choices.  And that is for me one of the biggest pillars on how I want to interact and teach dogs. However, no one has 100% choice in life.

This is then how I am “clarifying” to Deuce when he has a choice coming for the ride and when he does not. I use a leash and lots of verbal coaxing that I use while sheepherding to have him move by his own volition towards the car when he must come.  When he is not wearing a leash it means that he has a choice to jump in the car or stay behind. This set-up is a clear contingency for Deuce.

Now, this past week things got complicated.  Deuce needed to come for a ride as he was assisting me with a client’s dog.  A case of this pup having to earn his keep … LOL. While on the leash, he put on the breaks as he refused to get in the car.  The clock is ticking and I need to go. I had no choice but to carry Deuce in order to “protect” my contingency above and to get going.  As I later explained to John:  Carrying the dog in the car is truly not an option since he does not want to be lifted i.e: the choice has been totally removed for the dog. Because of this, there is a great possibility that he might growl or escalate his communication of: “I don’t want to do this” the next time John or I attempt carry him …  a slippery slope from then on.  Instead, it is best to teach him that getting in the car is fun! Nothing to be concerned about.

Another training set-up:

The next day, the whole family is going to visit some friends. Now, with more time on my hands I put the leash on Deuce and began coaxing him to get in. Keeping the experience light in tone. With more time in my hands, I can give him as much time as he needs in order for him to jump in on his own.  Bravo!  He jumps in and off we go.

There is always the possibility that we want our dog to do something that they cannot do. So, one has to proceed with caution, observation and fairness. In order to rule out any physical impediment as indeed, dogs can get sore backs and necks, pinched nerves, etc., I made sure that Deuce was physically capable of jumping in.

Here is my “test”:  I stacked up some large pillows a few inches high- almost the height of the back of my car.  In a different setting, one that Deuce has trained in and really enjoys. We begin the training session as we always do and I direct Deuce to jump on the pillows… he is able to jump back and forth without any hesitation or trouble.  Clearly, his hesitation is rooted somewhere else and not in a physical inability to do so.

Moving forward:

This morning, I took him out for a mini-session armed with super good stuff.  We stood next to the car and he got paid for that.  Then I open the back of the car, and he got paid for that.  We continue then to walk towards the car while he relaxed a bit more as I paid him again for him not balking, but moving forward. We ended the session without him having to do more than just hang out around the car as I opened and closed the hatch back followed by a few steps in the direction of the car. I ended the session with a happy and relaxed dog!

My ultimate goal is to counter condition Deuce to all aspect of getting in the car so that the process is not ridden with anxiety for him. More to come…