Solving problem behaviours: Jumping at Cars (eek!)

In my introduction post, I mentioned that Betsy had “gotten over her fear of cars” and that had introduced a whole new problem.

The problem is this: Now she loves cars. She loves to jump at them, she wants to chase them, the bigger and scarier the better (busses are her favourite).

She especially loves cars when it’s dark and rainy out (aka when there is very low visibility for seeing a small black dog), I imagine because they make loud wooshing noises and their lights are exciting and bright.

We first noticed this new obsession when she was about 3 & a half months old, and it scared us. Chasing cars is probably one of the most dangerous and terrifying habits a dog can develop.

With her especially it’s scary because she jumps at them on leash, and when she’s full grown and 100lbs, she could easily drag me into traffic along with her.

I did a bunch of research and I took the following steps:

  1. Got a martingale collar for walks instead of a flat collar. This is because her flat collar can loosen easily and be pulled free of if she jumps at just the right angle, whereas a martingale will tighten up and make sure she doesn’t get free. We still use the flat collar for low-traffic walks, but whenever I know I’ll be near a busy road, I martingale up.
  2. Started practicing calm behaviour when near a road. This includes praising her when a car passes and she doesn’t react, and sternly saying “At-at” when she jumps at a car (when she jumps it also means the leash tightens up and then yanks her back down, so that’s probably no fun for her either)

I know a lot of people believe in ‘purely positive’ training, and while I try to train her with rewards as much as possible, I’m not going to simply ignore the unwanted behaviour of her jumping at cars. I need to let her know I don’t approve.

So how has progress been?

She is much much better. At first, she jumped time and again at car after car, whenever we were by a road. Now she will jump maybe 10% of the time. My hope is that this will eventually make its way down to zero. I also often catch her thinking about jumping and then changing her mind and looking at me for a treat instead. Which is perfect.

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