So now you can arrive at a training venue and feel confident that your dog will look at you and want to work with you: or can you? We have spent the past five months working on relationship and how best to gain your dog’s attention and make him want to work with you. Yet in the past month I have had three clients, none of whom are new to trials, arrive for a lesson, open the back of their vehicle and allow their over excited, headless dog to leap out of the car/van screaming and/or pulling and most certainly not engaged with their owner. The embarrassed owner then either allows the dog to go self-employed, or begins to shout and jerk the dog’s lead. Not a good start to any lesson!
If you allow your dog to jump out and do his own thing, he could find something more interesting than you had planned; a rabbit, sheep, or a pheasant to chase, bitches to sniff. Surely these rate higher to most dogs than a ‘down stay’ for example. Once the dog has become aroused by these distractions many handlers then resort to shouting at their dog, or jerking him on the lead to stop the unwanted behaviour. This type of interaction makes the handler less desirable to the dog, who by now will be convinced that the rabbit/sheep/pheasant/smell is definitely more fun than the game you want to play!

Then I hear the excuses, ‘I always open the back of the car when we get to the park/woods/field and let him run free.’ I have to ask the question, why? We have already noted that dogs learn routines, so why would we encourage rambunctious behaviour on a daily basis? This type of routine clearly sets us at a disadvantage when arriving at a trial –so why cultivate it. And yes allowing the dog to run free is a reward and it will strengthen the unwanted, unruly behaviour.
When I arrive at a trial, I want my dog to want to work. I do not spend a couple of hours driving to a trial, having previously spent good money on my entry fee, to stand in a field while my dog looks for rabbits, or tries to get to the other dogs for a game. No, I want my dog looking at me and asking; ‘what game are we going to play next?’ This is the attitude I want to cultivate in my dog. Every-time I open the back of my vehicle, I want my dog to engage with me - not fly out to do his own thing!
This behaviour is so easy to stop! You just need to make up your mind that you will not have it any more; formulate your plan, and be consistent.
To start, as always, we need to look at our two rules and design our training programme.

Anne Bussey’s Two Rules of Dog Training

  • Make it easy for the dog to get it right.
  • Provide sufficient reward.

The reward for this exercise is a ‘no-brainer’ the dog will be rewarded with the walk.
But you might have to do some forward planning to do to achieve the first rule. If, for the past two years, you have driven your dog to the park and allowed him to fly out screaming with excitement, this might not be so easy to change. Even though the reward is sufficient, your dog’s brain may be in such a state of arousal that he cannot think and he will not learn in this situation. So in order to make it easy for your dog to get it right, you might have to begin your training at home, not at the point the unwanted behaviour occurs.

Stage one
Begin training on your drive with the dog on his lead. Stand at the back of the vehicle (or where he gets in) and train the sit. Click/or praise and reward with a small titbit. Move him a step or two and ask him to sit again: reward as before. Repeat this simple exercise until your dog will keenly sit on command (lead attached) at the back of your vehicle. The lead is there to prevent him from running under a lorry, not for you to force him into any position. When he will do this, tell him to sit and open the back door and reward him for remaining in the sit. If he is so car crazy that he jumps in before you can reward him for sitting lure him back out with the titbit (do not drag with the lead) ask him to sit, leaving the back open and reward him for compliance. If you cannot get him to sit on your drive before you even get to the park, it is unlikely you will be able to get him to sit when you arrive at your destination. If he is so bad that you find this exercise very difficult, begin the training on your drive after his walk. That means ignore and allow his usual rambunctious behaviour at the park until you get to stage 3.
Stay at stage one until you can ask your dog to sit while you open and close the vehicle (and cage if you use one) and your dog will remain sitting on the drive until you give him the command to jump into the vehicle. You might open and close the door two or three times while the dog remains sitting listening to you for his command. Remember you are training for ‘control and agility’ so why not start here, on your drive at home? Now he is in the vehicle ask him to sit. Reward him in the vehicle. Continue to feed one treat after the next with varying time gaps between treats, until your dog realises that sitting in the car is a good thing to do. So now your dog will sit and wait on your command, a) before he gets into the vehicle; and b) before he gets out - all without you raising your voice!

Stage two
Still on your drive, get your dog to sit. Open the door and ask him to jump in. (If you leave the lead trailing outside the door you will be able to take hold of this for safety when letting him out). Close the door and walk around your vehicle and then take hold of the lead and begin to open the door slowly. Remind your dog to wait but be ready to close the door quickly if he tries to jump out, so he cannot escape. Repeat this action closing the door at every attempt to jump (taking care not to shut the door on your dog’s paw) until he will sit and wait on your command both on the drive and in the vehicle whilst you open and close the door.
Congratulations - now your dog realises it is in his best interest to listen to you! Nothing happens until he does as you ask!

Stage three
Now all you need is to repeat this behaviour in different places every-time he gets in and out of the vehicle. If your dog’s unruly behaviour is well established, before trying in a new area, get him into the vehicle as trained, drive around the block and repeat his training back on your drive! When you are confident that you are in control and he will listen to you, drive somewhere else to train. Be warned the most difficult area will be his usual exercise area where his bad behaviour is so well established and rewarded. Instead of risking things going wrong why not drive to the supermarket car park, just to train your control.
Finally take him to your favourite spots but be consistent. Never allow him to jump out of the vehicle again, unless you are in control.

Note the above section is aimed at fit adult dogs. If your dog is not yet old enough or fit enough to jump in and out of your vehicle do not do this exercise. You can of course train in the same way but take care to lift your puppy in and out and prevent him jumping until he is old enough and fit enough not to jump.
Anne Bussey