5 Easy Steps to Train a Dog to Avoid Cars
Can You Teach a Dog to Avoid Streets and Traffic?
Yes, you can teach your dog to avoid streets, traffic, and cars. Dogs are afraid of a lot of things, however, most of them are not afraid of cars initially—it simply isn't an instinctual fear for them and hasn’t made it into their DNA. Training a dog to be fearful of cars is very difficult, but there are a few things you can do to get the sense of "danger" to stick.
Why You Should Teach Your Dog to Avoid Cars
Is it better to teach road-sense or keep your dog on a leash at all times? I keep my dogs on a leash when there are other people around, but I walk my dogs off-leash every night. Walking dogs on a leash all the time is obviously safer. In fact, most owners will recommend that you never run your dogs off-leash in an area where there are cars.
The Importance of Teaching Road-Sense
However, you need to consider what happens if something goes wrong. What about a broken leash? A broken collar? What if you fall and drop the leash? Will the dog run off and dash into traffic or stand next to you and wait to have his leash put on again? You might not see the immediate reason to teach a dog road-sense, but you should teach it to them anyway. Your dog may benefit someday.
Scared Dog on a Leash Running Through Traffic
How to Teach a Dog to Avoid Cars
The following five methods will be explained in detail further down in the article:
- The Sit-and-Wait Method: Each time you reach a road, whether or not there is traffic, have your dog sit by your side and only release him to cross after giving him the "okay" command.
- "Down" From a Distance Method: Teach your dog basic obedience—this includes the ability to obey the “down” command from a distance.
- The "Touch-and-Treat" Command: Train your dog to respond to the “touch” command.
- The Free-Roam Method: Allow your dog to walk around traffic and expose them to just how scary car-filled streets can be. (In the unsupervised dog's lifetime, some learn to fear cars, some never learn, and some might die—so be proactive about training them.)
- Learning by Exposure: Have someone drive by your dog with a slow-moving bicycle or car and carefully bump them—enough for them to know that the moving vehicle or bike is threatening. (See my thoughts on this technique below.)
Which Training Method Is Best?
1. The Sit-and-Wait
The first method—that of teaching a dog to sit and wait before crossing—is easiest to teach and usually works fine. All dogs should be exposed to and walked around traffic during their sensitive socialization period before 16 weeks of age.
2. "Down" From a Distance
If your dog is going to be off-leash at times, be sure to teach them to go “down” from a distance. For instance, if a vehicle is approaching and I cannot call my dog to my side, I can tell her “down” even if she is chasing a bird in the water or running through a field. By using this command, I am certain that my dog is not going to run in front of the vehicle in order to get back next to me.
3. The "Touch-and-Treat"
It is also important for all dogs that might be off-leash to learn the "touch-and-treat" method. You can expect your dog to come when called over 90% of the time, but is he always going to respond in every scenario? If you teach the “touch” command, your dog knows to receive a treat every single time he comes to you (that is, he must touch his nose to your hand). You should not use this command as casually as you do the recall (come when called).
Note: The first three methods seem to be the best, but no method is as safe as walking your dog on a leash.
4. Allow Your Dog to Free-Roam
When I stopped to ask people on the street about what methods they use, some said they believe in letting their dogs simply roam free. When I tried to discuss this problem with them, many simply stated that some dogs learn and some dogs get hit.
5. Learning by Exposure
The consensus among people on the street was that puppies are best trained by being bumped with a slow bicycle while still young. After that, I was told, these dogs learned to stay close to their master and were not even inclined to go out into traffic.
My opinion on this method: Sorry, street people, your dogs are obedient, but this is not the method I want to use to train my puppies. No matter how carefully this method is applied, some dogs are going to be injured, perhaps seriously.
Initial Road-Sense Training for Puppies
Does Initial Road-Sense Training Work?
The above video demonstrates one effective method of teaching your dog to sit and wait before crossing the road. However, if a dog is around a busy street and becomes distracted, the dog may fail to respond, which is why so many people recommend that a leash be attached at all times.
Has your dog ever been hit by a car?
Why I Advocate for On-Leash Walks
My dog is trained to respond to the safety word “touch,” runs over next to me and sits if a vehicle is approaching, and always stops and sits when we reach a street. She does not cross until I give her the "okay" command.
A Message About Safety
The other night, however, we were returning from a short walk and she wandered into the street. I was walking down on the beach and did not see her, nor did I see the motorcycle moving rapidly along the road. She was hit, despite all of her training. Fortunately, no bones were broken, but she is now nervous when we walk along that area at night and does seem to be more nervous around vehicles at night.
So, despite being well-trained in the first three methods, it is obvious that there is no fool-proof method of training for a dog. To be safe, dogs should be on a leash at all times when outside.
More Reading on Dogs and Cars . . .
- My Dog was Hit by a Car : What Happens Next?
Stay calm, if you have made it to the clinic the worst is over. This article will tell you what will happen to your friend when she is taken in after being hit by a car, and maybe how you can avoid it.
Questions & Answers
We taught our 5-month-old pug to use the cat door. When we come home, she runs out in front of the car. What can we do to stop that?
You need to move the cat door around to the back. Having that cat door at the front is a very dangerous situation for your dog since she can get out at any time, and not just when you are there. Move it around to the back of the house so that she will only go out to a fenced in yard.Helpful 3
© 2014 Dr Mark