Oh boy – a car ride – let’s go!!
Having your dog accompany you as you go about your daily activities can be a rewarding and fun-filled time for you and your dog. It’s an opportunity to expand your furry friend’s horizons with new sights, smells, and sounds. However, before we happily hop in and drive off, taking the time to teach your dog the correct way to enter a vehicle, ride calmly, and disembark safely will make each trip a much more pleasant experience for both you and your dog.
Command 15A: “Load”
To begin with, your dog should know the basic commands of Sit/Stay, Down, and Jump On. These are the building blocks of a controlled and peaceful car ride.
With your dog on a leash, approach the vehicle, choosing an entry point away from passing traffic if possible (i.e., the passenger door on a busy street, not the driver’s side). Tell your dog to assume a controlled position (“Sit” or “Down,” and then “Wait” or “Stay”) while you open the door.
When you are ready, tell your dog to “Load,” encouraging him into the vehicle. If your dog hesitates, tap the seat to show him where you want him to be or lure him with a treat. Encourage him with “That’s It!” as he's thinking about it. Remember, once they know the routine most dogs will hop right in. Do not forget to praise him once he is in, with “Yes! Good Load Toto!”
Once he is in, you can remove his leash. You can then tell him “Down,” so he can get comfortable for the trip.
It is best if loading into a vehicle is done matter-of-factly without jazzing the dog up and getting him super excited about the prospect of a car ride. Yes, car rides are fun, but we still must remember our manners. A barking, bouncing ball of fur is annoying, to say the least, and dangerous at the worst. Keeping your energy calm will help your dog stay calm, too.
When you arrive at your destination, calm energy and methodical commands will continue to ensure that your dog disembarks safely.
Command 15B: “Unload”
“Unload” tells your dog to get out of the designated vehicle and wait.
As you approach the car door furthest from traffic, remind your dog to “Wait” or “Stay.” When he is calm, open the door and immediately attach his leash. Again, remind him to “Wait” or “Stay” while you determine when it is safe to exit.
It is a good idea to vary the amount of time you ask your dog to wait calmly before exiting the vehicle. Gradually lengthen the time the door is open while you and your dog are just waiting calmly – up to 5 minutes or more. The point is, your dog should never just assume and jump out of a vehicle when the door is opened – he must always await your command to exit.
When you are ready, ask your dog to get out of the vehicle with the command “Unload.” Once he’s out, it is not immediately time for him to sniff, pull, or walk off. Take your time – your dog should again assume a position of control (Sit/Down and then Wait/Stay) while waiting patiently for you to collect your wits and your things and make sure you have your keys, etc. Now it is time to smile and praise your dog, being proud of his good behavior of loading and unloading properly. “Good Unload!”
When taking your dog out and about in your car, there are a few items everyone should carry in case of an emergency situation: A gallon of water and a dish, a spare leash, poop bags, and some treats. A towel, spare brush, and a toy can also be helpful. These can be kept in the trunk or cubby along with your own emergency gear.
Traveling with your dog, whether just running errands around town or on longer trips, is a good chance to bond with your dog in new situations and to utilize his training to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip for all.
Last week's lesson:Teach Your Dog to "Jump On" and "Off"
Next week's lesson: Training Your Dog to "Shake"
Back to 20 Dog Commands You Need to Know
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All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.