Rosie is now getting into the carRosie swings between being totally relaxed and happy to being a somewhat mixed-up character.

The seven-year-old Springer Labrador cross’ problems have been coming to a head over her reluctance to get into the lady’s car. Interestingly she is okay getting into the man’s car and the daughter’s, but she won’t get into the lady’s car. From my questions it seems this is not to do with the vehicle itself, but the human. With the lady there has been an undercurrent of shortage of time at the start of the day before she leaves for work, where when the man takes her after work or at the weekend he is unlikely to have deadlines.

Several times the lady said to me ‘Time is precious’ as she explained her frustrations at Rosie’s behaviour where she won’t get into the car has culminated in her being bitten.

A ritual has built up over the past couple of years in order to get Rosie into the car.

All her walks started with a car journey – to somewhere she would toilet (another pressure).  Initially it was enough to throw a biscuit into the car to get Rosie to jump in. She would put her front feet up and the lady then lifted her back legs in. She is a nimble little dog who loves agility – and certainly could jump in for herself.

As time went by she began to refuse even to put her front feet up. Over time the lady was opening the boot, taking Rosie away from the car and then making an enthusiastic game of running up to the car to get her in.  The number of times Rosie got her to do this increased.  However, there came a point when she started to refuse to get in the car even after all this and was snarling and growling at the lady. The final straw was when the lady shut the boot instead and tried to walk Rosie away from the car, whereupon Rosie became very angry and grabbed her arm.

I would say that Rosie is totally confused. Due to the understandably exasperated lady feeling the pressure of time, Rosie is under a lot of pressure as well. To the lady, the toileting was dependent upon that off-lead run. ‘You would think she’d know that with all this messing about at the start of a walk (up to 20 minutes sometimes) she’d get a shorter walk’.

The ritual has to be broken and actually fate has stepped in. Poor Rosie has had stitches after cutting herself jumping over barbed wire so had to be road-walked on lead for the past three weeks. It has proved that she can toilet without running round the fields. It has also shown that life goes on without these car journeys for off-lead walks. The pressure is off somewhat.

Our plan is to carry on with road walks only whilst building in-car work; by merely touching the boot initially whilst feeding Rosie, gradually and incrementally doing a little more – opening the boot and feeding Rosie, opening it and shutting it again, all the time feeding Rosie.  At home they will be teaching her to jump on and off things on cue. Considerably later the lady can introduce opening the boot, feeding, then casually saying ‘up you get’, waiting a moment (no pressure) and if she doesn’t jump in continuing with the road walk, and so on.

It could take a long time to undo two year’s worth of ritual where Rosie’s own behaviour has dictated the amount of effort the lady put in, until she sort of lost control of the lady and understandably became very confused and frustrated – angry.

The lady felt very pressurised, understandably – and so did Rosie.  People and dogs in a close relationship so bounce of one another!

At home the lady will now spend more time encouraging Rosie to give her her full attention and to enjoy doing little things for her – for rewards. The family can show Rosie that from now on they won’t always do what she wants, when she wants it but that it’s fun and rewarding to do things for her humans when they ask her. Currently Rosie, in her own sweet way, calls the tune.

The lady need no longer be thinking ‘time is precious’! If she has an hour, she has an hour. If this starts with a short road walk, followed by an invitation to Rosie to get into the car which she declines, they can carry on with more lead-walking instead, so be it.

About 8 weeks have now gone by and i have just received this email: ‘Thought I’d let you know that although we are still taking it very slowly and carefully, Rosie has been behaving perfectly with the car for about a week now – getting in with no problem both before her walk and again on returning from it.  We’re beginning to feel that we’re really made some progress with this, thanks very much for your support and suggestions!’ and a months later: ‘Just thought I’d give you a quick update on how things are with Rosie. She has been really settled for the last couple of months; (the lady) takes her to the back of the car and opens the hatchback, and the habit we have is just to leave her sat there for a moment or two and she then gets her front paws onto the boot floor and is then quite happy to be helped in’.  

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rosie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, particularly where there is any aggression involved. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).