Teaching Your Dog to Wait in the Car

Teaching your dog to wait in the car is beneficial for both you, and your dog.  If you show your dog how to wait in the car, windows wide open, or the top down, you have a security system, via your dog, for your vehicle, and the added bonus of a pet that is not overheating in a locked car.  When it’s warm outside, leaving the car windows wide open can mean the difference between life and death for your dog. But, if you have a dog that hops out of the window as soon as you walk away, this can create a life, or death, situation in itself.  Showing your dog how to stay in the car isn’t a difficult behavior to teach, but as anything that you want your dog to learn, it will take time on your part to teach him.

In a previous post, in dog training, I had written about the benefits of training your dog using a foreign, or different, language than the standard, sit, stay, come commands.  This is where that training is going to come in very handy!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come out of a store to find Mr. Joe Idiot trying to persuade my dog to jump out of the car! They use the standard language of “come here”, “come on”, while patting their leg. My dog has no idea what those words mean. The way they pat on their leg to encourage my dog to jump out most likely would be interpreted as “look at this nice, meaty, juicy thigh meat I have here, want a bite?”.

The biggest problem I’ve had is with one of the Chihuahua’s.  She is the Queen!  All others will obey! When I go into a store, as the Queen, she immediately steps up to the highest point in the car to watch me.  The highest point of the car is usually the retracted roof (when the top is down), or the top of the headrest.  She watches me walk all the way to the store, and watches that door until I come back out.  This seating position unfortunately draws attention to her. I’ve had people take pictures of her sitting up there. I’ve had people warn me that she was standing up there (while I was sitting in the car,!). I’ve had people inquire if I let her stay there while I’m driving down the road?  No, I don’t. Besides she doesn’t want to (She’s a 8 lb Chihuahua! A sneeze knocks her over, let alone wind!) I’ve come out of a Starbuck’s and caught a woman trying to take her from my car! I’ve had CVS call me on the intercom because my dog was waiting for me on my car!  Beware of the concerned citizens.

But, I digress, back to training your dog to wait in the car.  When you start teaching this behavior make sure the dog is mature enough to obey your request.  A puppies basic instinct is to follow the person that produces his food.  This is an instinct for survival as a puppy.  With that in mind, it could prove a challenge for you, as well as the puppy, to teach this behavior.  I’m sure somebody out there can do it, but the heartache on the puppy really isn’t worth it.

My dogs were all well into their sixth month of life when I would start working with them to stay in the car. You can have several dogs in your household, but focus on the one you’re training for the duration of this training.  When you go somewhere, and you know you’re going to ask the pup to wait in the car, don’t bring any of the other dogs with you, unless the other dogs already know how to wait in the car. If they do not know how to wait in the car, bringing them along can set your training back miles.

Basic rules when you start training:

  • Keep a leash in the car.  This is just for a while, but handy all the time.
  • Never ask the dog to wait in a hot car, or on a hot day.
  • When the leash is used make absolutely certain the dog cannot reach the door of the car.  If they can reach the door of the car, they may climb the door, jump out, and hang themselves.  This is a point I cannot stress strong enough!

The first few times you work with your dog:

  1. When I have a young dog, or new dog, I don’t like them to have the run of my vehicles interior. It’s not safe, and I don’t want the dog every where, so using a leash for the first few weeks will teach him to stay in a specific area of the vehicle at all times.  So, to start, tie the leash to an object in the center of the car.  The stick shift (in a fashion where the dog won’t pull it out of gear, or pull it into a wrong gear), the hand emergency brake (Again, in a fashion where he can’t activate the E brake by accident), the center console, what have you.  Make certain the leash is short.  The dog must not be able to reach the door.  Attach the leash to the dog’s collar. Better yet, use a chest harness!
  2. Drive to your destination.  Choose something not interesting if possible.  Where people and other dogs won’t be walking by your car. My thing was every time I drove to the corner market I would bring the dog in training.
  3. When you reach your destination, get out of your car as if your alone (the dog is leashed so he can’t follow you anyways).  Act as casual as possible. This is not a time to hug and kiss the dog and tell him, in a cutesy voice, to please stay in the car, and you’ll miss him so much. Just open the door and step out. Depending on the dog’s age, and training, he will most likely try to lounge after you out the door, but that’s why the leash is on. Make no big deal of his attempt to come with you, and close the door.
  4. Run your errand.  Make it something quick, maybe run into a gas station for a pack of gum, or something else that will take minimal time.

Pay attention to how your dog is acting when you come back.  Is he howling? Is he barking?  Is he chewing on something? These clues will tell you how to best proceed.  If he’s barking, roll the windows all the way up the next few times until he stops, consider a muzzle temporarily.  If he’s chewing on the seats, or ripped the dashboard down, bring a bone with you next time.  When you get out of the car, casually toss the bone to him. This will occupy him while your gone.

Another really good idea that works; bring someone with you. This works really good as well as doing going it solo. If you have someone that will go with you, this is what you do.

Whom ever the dog is most attached to will be the one to leave the vehicle:

  1. Take your dog, and your assistant, to the market, or gas station, where ever. Park the car.
  2. The person the dog is most attached to, whether it is the driver or passenger does not matter, that person exits the vehicle.
  3. The person remaining pays attention to the dog to catch any “I’m gonna hop out” behavior and stop it before it happens. If you need a leash for this use it, if your dog will listen to voice commands then use that.

Either method, when you exit the car your dogs stress level can sky-rocket.  His best friend, source of all good things, just walked out.  He doesn’t know your coming right back.  Until he learns you haven’t abandoned him forever, you need to come up with alternate ideas to occupy, or distract him until you return.  That’s why the short trips work best at the beginning, or having someone accompany you helps.

When you arrive home, with the leash still on the dog, unbuckle the leash and invite him out of the car door.  Don’t let him jump over the side, or out the window when you release him from the leash. Again, un-clip it as casually as possible. The best scenario would be your dog doesn’t notice the leash has been un-clipped.  Then when you get out of the car, at home, he can be invited out.

This is the way it is going to go until you can go to the market, or store, where ever, stop the car, open the door, and get out, and your dog does not try to jump out with you.  The day this happens your ready for the next step…


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