If you have a little dog, this may not be as big of a deal, but anyone with a larger dog that just won’t jump in the car knows the struggle is real. Or maybe your Great Dane puppy is easy to hoist up…now. But wait a few months. Having a dog that willingly gets into the car on a cue makes getting ready to leave a breeze. It’s also helpful if your arms are full of other things, no matter your dog’s size.
BEFORE YOU START TRAINING THIS – YOU MUST ELIMINATE THESE CAUSES FIRST
Some dogs are not willing to get into the car because they are fearful of it – they may even get car sick, which means your car has a negative association. If that is the case, check out this blog on helping your dog get used to the car and getting over car sickness first.
The other thing could be pain. Especially if you have an older dog, they may not want to jump in your car because it hurts them physically. They could have a leg injury, a bad back or arthritis causing their hesitancy. If there is any reason to suspect a medical reason, have your dog checked by your vet first before proceeding with training.
If you have cleared these reasons, then it’s time to train!
There are a few ways we can go about teaching your dog to “load” on cue. You could stand by your car door and hope that he will offer to jump inside, and then reward. Or you can reward for each step toward the car your dog takes (called shaping). But if your dog has no interest in the car at all, these can take a while.
It’s easiest to use luring. To lure, you are going to use a piece of your dog’s kibble or a healthy treat. Hold the food very close to your dog’s nose and move it the direction you want to go (in this case, toward the car). When he takes a step, give him the food and praise him.
At the beginning, start close to the car, otherwise it might take you half an hour just to get to the car! Start far enough away that your dog has room to manoeuver his paws to jump or step up into the car, but not more than a couple steps away.
If your dog has never lured before, you will want to start by rewarding for every step at first. If your dog has, you may be able to have him take two or three before you reward. Just remember you always want to reward before your dog disengages, better to reward too often at first, then to lose your dog’s interest and have them turn away. (If that happens, go back to where you started with your dog and try again, rewarding sooner.)
Don’t move the lure so fast that your hand ends up ahead of the dog’s nose – most dog’s will stop following the lure if it gets too far out.
MY DOG WON’T FOLLOW THE LURE: If that happens, it may be that your treat is not high value enough, try something else. Or, it could be your dog is more fearful of the car than you thought, in which case you may need to revisit desensitization first (see above link to the other blog post!). Have a toy dog instead of a foot dog? You can easily use a toy as a lure as well!
Once you have lured your dog into the vehicle, big party! Give her lots of praise and a treat or the toy…you can even play a small game of tug or fetch in the car, to make that space a fun space.
Then, reset. This time, try increasing the number of steps your dog takes towards the car before getting the lure. The point is to try and get rid of the treat/toy lure as quickly as possible, so your dog is just following your empty hand to the car.
TIP: IF you use the lure too many times, it can be hard to get rid of it. Only have your dog lure a few times before “testing” to see if he will get in the car without it.
If he jumps in, give him a reward.
If he won’t jump in, use the lure couple more times and try again.
Repeat this process until your dog is only getting reward when they are following your empty hand all the way into the vehicle.
Then, you will gradually move your hand away from your dog’s face, so you can simply point, and your dog will load into the car.
ADDING THE CRATE
We firmly believe your dog is safest when he is confined to a crate in the vehicle, and crash tests back that up. So, once your dog is loading into the car, you can add going into this crate as part of the cue. To do this, use the luring method again to lure your dog into the crate. Once he goes into the crate just by pointing, start back outside the vehicle, and point. If your dog goes all the way into his crate, big praise party! If he doesn’t point again (do not reward until his is in the crate).
At this phase, you can add a verbal cue by saying a word such as Load, Car, Up, whatever you wish, right before you signal with your hand. Eventually, your dog will start to respond to the verbal before you signal with your hand, that’s when you know he has the verbal down.
Follow these steps, and you will have a self-loading dog that will make car trips a whole lot easier.