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My dog is afraid of cars.
  • Cody is about 10 months old now. Over the past few months, he's developed this fear of cars. Not moving cars, but parked ones. I live in an apartment complex, so a lot of our walks take us past lines of parked cars. If I walk him past a row where he's on the inside, he'll scurry to the other side and go to the end of his leash so as not to have to walk near the cars. When we go through 2 cars, he'll plop down on the ground. When I insist he follows me, his tail drops and he'll get very low to the ground and sprint behind me as fast as possible.

    He wasn't always this way, and there was no traumatizing event that caused him to suddenly be afraid of them. Or maybe I just didn't notice and it started earlier on, since he's fine walking past them as long as I'm between him and the car.

    This presents a bit of an issue especially when we're walking and there are cars in the middle of the road (moving ones). In order to avoid the parked cars, he dashes into the road on the opposite side of me, dangerously close to the moving cars.

    I've tried just ignoring it and showing that I'm not afraid of the cars so that he'll start being indifferent, but it gets to the point where I'm practically dragging him to get him to move. I'm trying to train him out of his fear with treats, but I feel like I'm rewarding his nervous behavior which might be enforcing something bad. Also he tends not to have any interest in me or the treats when he's focused on the cars. I can't lure him even a few feet away from a car bumper because he loses all interest in even his highest value treats. Am I reenforcing the behavior by trying to train him this way? Should I not reward him when his tail is still down or he's blatantly in a state of fear? How do I then associate the treat with his act of walking past the cars?

    I'm sure fear is a fairly common question in terms of training, but I searched without too much success.

    [mod edit: re-categorized due to addition of new category]
    Post edited by sunyata at 2013-06-06 10:25:51
  • rubyruby
    Posts: 175
    If he isn't even interested in the treats then he is beyond his threshold or tolerance for the situation. I have a fearful dog and from my experience I haven't had good luck with forcing her to do anything she isn't comfortable with. I worked very slowly with her and it took a lot of time. I couldn't just walk her down a busy street and have her be ok with it. She was afraid of everything and everyone. Sometimes she still can't handle a lot of commotion. But I go at her pace. At first we did a lot of watching and standing at a distance just so she could see what was going on. I watch her signs carefully and know when something or someplace is too much and back off. Some days she is jumpier than others, too. So then we just play ball inside and do lots of quick walks.
    Posts: 1507
    I would try to train him in a similar but not quite the same situation. By this I mean when he is walking where cars are parked and there are empty parking spots between them I would stop, let him relax and then give him a treat when you start walking again.

    @nadipity, Does this reaction also occur in indoor parking garages? I am asking this to determine if the fear is specific or has generalized.
  • DebDeb
    Posts: 286
    Desensitization and counterconditioning techniques are very helpful for these issues. These techniques are done with plenty of treats and praise. How it works is take the dog near the cars but far enough away so he isn't overwhelmed and can still take treats. It should be a comfortable distance. Every time the dog looks at the car, praise and treat. Each time you work on this, and it needs to be often, you should be able to incrementally get nearer to the car with the dog still able to function. Sometimes, when you think you're all set at a certain distance, you find you're not, then you back to where the dog can be comfortable and looking around and keep working at it. Take the highest value treats you have to do this training. Don't drag the dog and do try to walk him where he is comfortable, can accept treats and his tail stays up. Any painful or upsetting thing that happens when he is already afraid of the parked cars will reinforce his notional idea that parked cars hurt him. Does your dog like to ride in cars? What kind of collar are you using? Obviously he trusts you to protect him from the evil parked cars because he does OK when you are between them and him. Treat him for being able to do that, too. Smile lots and be very upbeat and happy, don't scold him. If he doesn't do right, redirect him to do something else right so you can be happy and treat him to keep him happy.
  • Thanks so much for all the information!

    I haven't taken him into any indoor parking garages, but I get the feeling that its more about being surrounded by the height of the cars (similar to walls, he seems to prefer to not walk next to walls) that causes the fear.

    He loves riding in cars, and doesn't seem to have an issue with my car in particular when the door is open. I'm using a regular harness on our walks (it connects to the leash at halfway down his back).

    I'll definitely work on everything suggested here, and try to be patient and reward him for small steps! Thanks again!
  • DebDeb
    Posts: 286
    Good for you for recognizing this problem and asking for help so you can help your dog. Let us know how things go! Best wishes!

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