It’s a Trick AND Treat Halloween 2016 Giveaway Hop!
The Trick: Overcoming a Fear of the Car (A work in progress)
Piper has always been a little leery of the car. My sweet fun-loving girl becomes, literally, a trembling ball of mush when she thinks we are going to the car. If we head down the stairs from our courtyard and take a left to walk around the neighborhood, no problem. But, if I dare to turn right at the bottom of the stairs towards the parking lot, she freezes on the spot and suddenly weighs 1000 pounds and has no interest in treats. (in the video below, my friend was holding an awesome liver snack but Piper was too terrified to even look at the treat 🙁 )
There are two problems with this: first, sometimes we really do need to get in the car (vet visits, doggie daycare, play dates, dog-friendly events etc.); and, second the sidewalk along the edge of the parking lot leads to the open space trails that she loves.
Despite never having had a bad experience in the car (knock on wood), Piper’s fear of the car has become increasingly worse prompting me to cease even trying to get her into the car to go to the places she loves.
Piper at day care, a place she loves, all dressed up for Halloween 2015
I spoke with the trainer, read several posts from fellow bloggers (thank you to Carol from Fidose of Reality) and spoke with the vet about how best to support Piper in overcoming her fear of the car using positive training, natural calming products and really awesome treats.
It became clear that, for Piper’s sake, I needed to back things WAY up and not even try to put her in the car. For the past month, we have (thankfully) not had to go to the vet, I cancelled daycare, and we have skipped any and all events that require a car ride.
When we go out for a walk, instead of taking my whole key chain, I leave my car keys in the house and just put a house key in my pocket. We started with playing a game called “Check it out” where I place a treat a few feet in front of us and say “check it out”. Then I wait until Piper to move forward to get her treat. We did this for the first week all around the courtyard and finally made it over to the top of the stairs without her freezing up.
Just sitting on the bench by the parking lot. There were LOTS of treats!
We continued the “check it out” game trying to get down the stairs. We were able to get down the stairs easily and as long as I immediately went to the left, Piper wouldn’t put on the brakes but if I even thought about going to the left, we were done. I didn’t want to push Piper so we would head back up the stairs and do some fun thing in the courtyard to end on a positive note. This went on for two weeks and I was finally able to get her to walk a few feet to the right where we sat on a bench and watched the parking lot for about 15 minutes before heading back to the courtyard.
I also engaged one of our neighbors, Paul, who Piper LOVES in the effort to make the parking lot less scary. Paul came out to the courtyard and we all walked down the stairs and to the right towards the parking lot. Piper was too excited to notice that she was scared until we were a few feet into the parking lot but as soon as she did, we simply walked to a grassy area and hung out for a bit on the perimeter of the parking lot where she received lots of praise and treats. We played for a bit in the grass and then went right back up to the courtyard.
Last week, I got Simon, one of my other dogs, into the action. We made it into the parking lot and just started walking around the parked cars. I asked the dogs to sit by different cars. I offered all kinds of praise and treats. At first, Piper didn’t want to sit near any of the cars but eventually she not only sat but was calm enough to take treats. She wouldn’t sit or take treats near our car.
We did this all week and, FINALLY, she sat calmly by our car and took treats. We, of course, ended each practice session with fun playtime in the courtyard.
Piper siting calmly by our car – WOOT!!
Progress to date
There is no question that patience is the key to success when overcoming a fear. While we have made great progress, we still have a ways to go before I will attempt to get Piper in the car. Over the past month, we have made it from being frozen at the top of the stairs (see video above) to being able to walk through the parking lot to actually being able to sit by the car calmly enough to take a treat.
Next up: we will work on staying calm and unafraid while just opening the car door.