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New Dog Terrified of Cars While on Walks

664 Views 13 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Muskie46
We just brought home our 8 month old German Shepard Maggie from a rescue. Maggie was a stray when the shelter found her near St Louis. Now, she is a resident in northern Wisconsin. She is one of the sweetest dogs i have ever met. Within 5 mins of having her, she was playing fetch with my 5 year old son; being extremely patient and gently with him. Maggie is not vocal, have only heard her bark twice, shes house broke, is not a chewer (unless its her toys) and when its time to sit and relax shes as cool and mellow as can be. Maggie gets very excited for meals and eats quickly. I have been able to get her to sit and stay until i am finished filling her bowl before she starts gabbling. Working with her for only a few days, she quickly learned and responds to her name, sits on command and has stopped jumping. Very smart girl. She was also doing great on a leash. Our first time out, she was a heavy puller. After working on a few leash exercises, she walks right along side me, follows does not lead and sits every time we come to a stop. The girl is a dream come true. Que the car...

I live in a fairly quiet neighborhood on a dead end street (last house on the block). This means no passing cars. Our first couple of walks were great. a few bad habits were quickly corrected and she was very calm while walking. Being February in Northern Wisconsin, the sun doesnt come up until around 7am and its dark by 6pm. I work early and having active kids, we dont settle down for the day until 7pm (if we're lucky). This means morning and evening walks are in the dark. Up until now, she has seen and heard passing cars in the distance. Headlights and all. Maggies ears always perks up and she would become hyper aware of that vehicle. But never anything more then that. Last night, my neighbor, in a pick up truck, drove by us as we were walking and she quickly moved away and never allowed her back to the truck. Once it was past, she continued walking, turning her head back to look at the truck as it was now parked. No more then a minute later, a car turns onto our street ahead of us a full block away and she was done. Maggie booked it the opposite direction and pulled like it was the Iditarod. We headed home and she seemed fine once back in the house.

The next morning (this morning), Maggie and i headed out for our morning walk. I purposely stayed home a little later then normal, waiting for the sun to peak up for some light while walking. Once we had some light, we headed out. We only got 3 houses down the block when a car pulled onto our street a full 2 blocks ahead of us. Again, she turned and ran. This time i brought treats that she really likes, thinking i could distract her fear with those. Putting one right in front of her nose, she didnt even notice it. Walk over.

Driving in my truck sitting next to me, she does great and doesnt bat an eye lash at passing vehicles. its only when walking that she is terrified of vehicles. Even ones that arent passing or very loud.

What do you all think i could do to help?

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Try introducing her to parked cars first. Once she's ok with that, turn on the engine, but keep it parked. Keep her at whatever distance is comfortable for her, and slowly, probably over the course of several days, work her up to being closer and closer to the parked car. The have someone slowly drive the car for a short distance, such as down the driveway or a little bit down the street. Again, start at a comfortable distance and move closer and closer. (of course, for safety reasons, you don't want her too close, but close enough to imitate what she will experience on the road. Then try having someone drive a car past you while you are on the street. At first, they should turn around before they get to you, when she starts to get nervous. Work on having the car come closer and closer until, after a few days, she allows the car to pass at a slow-ish pace. Repeat the exercise faster and faster cars. If she seems nervous, increase the distance
During all this, don't try to get her to focus on the car, at least at first. Keep her attention on you. Depending on your dog, this could mean giving her a belly rub or playing tug, or it could mean practicing some basic obedience like "sit", "lie down", "watch me", etc. If she looks at the car but doesn't flip out, praise her. But be careful not to scold her if she does get scared, then she'll think that when cars are around, even her human gets scary. You want to be her refuge. There is a popular belief that you shouldn't comfort a scared dog, but this simply isn't true. It is not possible to reinforce fear. So if she does get nervous, feel free to pet her, and show her that it's ok. Whenever a car approaches, make it a mini-party. Instead of letting her focus on the "scary car", help her focus on you: your praise, your pets, and your treats. It will likely not work the first time, but eventually she can learn that a passing car is a good thing.

Here is one good article: My Dog is Afraid of Passing Cars | Dog Training Nation

But be patient, this will take several weeks, maybe even several months.
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And I would suggest never taking any dog anywhere on a flat collar. There may be some breeds like bulldogs with heads so large they can't pull backward out of a flat collar, but I'd never count on it. If you tighten a flat collar to where it can't be pulled out of by a panicky dog, it's too tight for comfort. Use a properly adjusted martingale.
A harness would be better than a martingale. Martingales age good for breeds like greyhounds with very small heads, but they still cause discomfort if the dog pulls, (less than the oh-so-dangerous choke chain, but they still tighten) which is not what you want in a fearful dog. You'd be punishing her for being scared and trying to run off, which would make the situation worse, adding more unpleasant stimuli.
P.S. No one is going to convince me that having a martingale collar tighten is any more frightening or punishing to a dog than what that dog experiences when pulling against a flat collar or harness. There seem to be a lot of things all-positive trainers do that when you really think about it are aversive to the dog. Not letting a dog do anything it wants to, no matter how dangerous or inclined to lose it a home that action would be, is controlling and aversive. Why exactly is it A-okay for me to be required by law to wear a seatbelt I find uncomfortable and hate, but causing my dog a little discomfort for its own safety is unconscionable?

Ever heard that old saying? "Every virtue carried to the extreme, is a vice."
Oh absolutely! That is why I use a harness and NEVER walk a dog with just the collar unless they are trained and I KNOW they will not pull. (I use the Lupine Pet roman harness and the Petsafe 3-in-1, she's never pulled out). And I definitely think there should be rules in place, and they should be enforced, not doing that is cruel. And so if what the dog's finding "unpleasant" is that I gently enforce my rules, then so be it. But since dog's don't really understand our weird human world with our weird human rules, I think causing them pain for disobeying them in rather unfair. I think gentle corrections and showing them what to do instead is much kinder. But believe me, I am not saying that using a flat collar is kinder than using a martingale. But using a harness is, because the neck is a delicate area. Pressure around the neck is not a good thing. The harness distributes the pressure over a larger and less delicate area. But it all depends on how you use it. a harsh jerk on a harness is much worse than a gentle tug on a flat collar, which is worse than no pressure on a prong collar. A properly used martingale really isn't that bad. But in a situation like this with a fearful dog, it may require a gentler approach. In any situation, I'd still prefer a harness to a collar of any kind. "Corrections" shouldn't involve discomfort to their neck.

And yes, I agree, in regards to your last statement :)
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