Vehicle Manners

This guest post was written by Lucy Easton

For most of us, taking our Labrador out in the car is a big part of how we spend time with him.

It is vital not only for our safety but our sanity too, that he remains calm the entire time he is in the vehicle.

An hysterical dog is upsetting and distracting to the driver whilst they are in motion, and very aggravating once they have stopped.

We have all known a dog, if not our own then one of a friend or relative, that gets very excited when you reach a destination.  This is usually because when they go on a car ride, they know they are visiting somewhere fun.

Travel Excitement

This can build up slowly over time, so it’s important to try and nip this behaviour in the bud if you can.

When you’re going somewhere familiar, your happy Labrador might get very excited once you arrive.

However, he will often soon learn the route as well.

This means that the nearer you get, the more anticipation he will have about the venue.

When a Labrador is this excited, it’s tricky for him to act like a sensible member of the family. He will often express this excitement by whining, spinning, pawing or panting. The moment you then arrive and let him out of the car, all of these activities have been massively rewarded.

In order to stop your dog from getting to this point of hysteria, there are some nice tips you can follow.

A Chain of Events

Like with so many things in training, this will temporarily involve a bit of inconvenience to you.

Think about what happens on your drive to take your dog for a walk. You will follow a predictable pattern of turns, stops and starts. These will all be signs to your dog of what is to come.

Each boring step along the way becomes exciting, because it’s linked to the big rewarding event at the end.

Often the final exciting phase of the chain is your turning off the engine or unbuckling your seat belt.

Fortunately, this predictable chain also allows us to neatly solve the problem.

Controlling the Rewards

As we have seen so far, the end goal has made each action in your journey rewarding to your dog.

We need to teach him that in order to gain the end goal, he must display the behaviour we desire. To help him learn, we need to work out what this required behaviour is.

Most of us want to achieve our dog being quiet, calm and relaxed. But we need to make sure it’s achievable, so at first we will just settle for silence.  It’s a nice, defined either/or concept that your dog will be able to understand.

The Golden Rule

The golden rule of achieving your aim is simple:

“avoid moving on to the next event, unless your dog is silent” 

Now, when we’re driving this is obviously not possible for every movement we make, so we need to look at the activity in broad, sensible terms.

For example, when you turn on the engine do not pull away until your Lab is quiet. When you get to your destination, as long as it is safe to do so, leave the engine running until your dog is silent as well. Then, when you have switched off the engine if he starts whining again, do not open the car door until he stops. For a step-by-step guide on the procedure for this, take a look at The Gundog Club’s Passing Grade Three.

When you start working on this remember, never open the car and let the dog out whilst he is making a noise.

He must learn that his whining or barking delays the next gratifying event.

The Time Factor

Vehicle noise is not normally a quick fix matter. If your dog has got into the habit of making a fuss, it will be a while before he is able to remain calm enough to move onto the next step in the chain.

Most Labs will not whine constantly, but rather in response to tiny movements from you. You do not want to be waiting for twenty minutes between turning off the engine and opening the door, but fortunately there is a way to make this easier on you both.

Make Use of Markers

A behavioural marker is a precise signal, telling the dog he is going to get a reward. A clicker is a nice, exact way of achieving this.

It not only defines the moment your dog ‘got it right’, but it buys you some time. If you are unsure about using markers, have a look at the markers section of the Labrador Site before you continue.

Other Causes of Vehicle Noise

The methods discussed above will work if your Labrador is excited about arriving at the destination.

Remember that if they are instead distressed by the journey, anxious or travel sick, this is not the solution to their problem. Consult your vet if you are unsure.

If your dog is calm in general, but just gets excited on ‘known walk’ journeys then you can probably assume this is the cause of his noise.

Lots of the information given above is taken from a training guide, Passing Grade Three.

For more great tips and information on solving vehicle noise issues, have a look at your copy of The Gundog Club’s training manual Passing Grade Three.

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Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Lucy on February 3, 2013

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