Pet World: Dog won’t get into the car. What do I do?
My dog will not get in car. She weighs around 60 lbs. and is too heavy to lift. She's a rescue and we love her, but this is a big problem if we have to go to the vet. She also will sometimes refuse to go on a walk displaying same behavior as car, neck down, tail between her legs, and legs cemented to the ground. What can I do?
-Maurice, Old Bethpage, New York
Your dog may not be jumping into the car because she is scared of the car, the destination (the vet,) or the journey (car sickness). Or, she may be physically unable to jump into the car because she is in pain, is a young pup or is a senior pet. Or, she simply has never been taught to jump into a car. I am going to go with scared since she seems scared to go for a walk and was never trained to jump into the car. Dogs need confidence to do things, and your little girl sounds like she lacks confidence. You can build confidence through training. When she “sits” on command and you reward her that builds confidence. Start doing some basic training (sit, down, stay) to help her along.
To train her to jump into the car, train her to jump on the couch or an ottoman, something sturdy, first. Smack your hand on the furniture and say “jump.” Dogs generally understand this and will comply. When she jumps (or even looks like she is trying to jump), say a reward word like Bingo that lets her know she is moving in the right direction and give her a treat.
When you take her to the car, simply give her a treat for standing near it until you feel ready to ask her to jump into it. Hopefully, she will have regained some confidence and feel like trying. If not, keep working at it until she is not afraid.
If you still can’t get her into the car and you can’t pick her up, then consider buying a portable ramp or stairs for her to use to get into the car. Don’t feed her before any car trips and give her travel chews (available at pet stores) in case her anxiety is related to motion sickness.
I read your advice to Cheryl from Long Beach, California, who was asking about how to get her puppy mill survivor adoptee to accept her husband. I have cared for several puppy mill survivors and currently have two in my household. When Honey, a Maltese/toy poodle first joined my household it was Jeze, my older dog, who was the only one who could approach her. Honey would shake uncontrollably whenever a human went near her. I began sitting quietly talking with Honey, not trying to get her out from wherever she had sought refuge, just quietly talking to her. I repeated this several times over many weeks, until finally, Honey advanced towards me and reached out her paw and touched me. I was careful to remain softly talking with her, not trying to reach out and grab her even though I wanted so much to hug her. Soon she was approaching me and allowing me to not only touch her but also to pick her up and cuddle her as well. However, several weeks after this happened, Honey screamed and ran off when I pulled a bag out to put in the bathroom. I realize that she must have been put into a bag and dumped. Obviously, my actions had brought old memories to the fore, so I again began just sitting nearby, talking quietly to her. In time, she overcame her panic and approached me again. Today she is well socialized as is her 'sister' another Maltese named Elsa.
–Margaret, Victoria, Australia
Just like people, animals can be traumatized, so when they react oddly to a situation, it might be an indicator that something happened to them in their past. Regardless of the past trauma, I operate from the position that they just have lost trust in someone at some point in their lives. Your approach to be patient, speak softly, and sit quietly with Honey is the best way to rebuild trust. It can take days, weeks, or even months to rebuild that trust, but it’s worth the effort you put into it to see the transformation occur. Honey and Elsa are lucky to have you as their parent.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)(c) 2020 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.