One of the preeminent responsibilities of any pet owner is to provide for the safety of the pet. So much of what owners and trainers do is to ensure that the pets in their charge are safe and well cared for. Owners vaccinate, feed a proper diet, make sure their pets get adequate exercise, give them lots of love and attention, and so much more. Trainers dutifully work to make the lives of both the owner and the pet easier and more in sync with one another.
One of the most important and challenging safety precautions for dog owners is how to prevent their dogs from bolting from an open car door when the dog is along for the ride and the owner makes a stop at the store or bank, for example. It doesn’t take more than once for a pet owner to realize the horror of a dog running around a parking lot or out into the street.
The solution to this frightening possibility is for the dog to be well trained in the stay and release commands. Following are the steps I recommend to teach both cues and ultimately prevent bolting.
Stay is an extremely important cue if bolting is an issue for your dog. You must work on a strong cue so that if the door is opened either to the vehicle or to your house, you can cue “stay,” and your dog will be able to have the impulse control to wait until he hears the release cue.
The stay cue promotes strong impulse control for your dog and helps him learn to focus. You will use stay while out walking your dog, before you cross the street, if you need to tie your shoe, and a plethora of other occasions, not the least of which is when he is inside your car and you want him to stay there.
When you first start teaching the behavior of stay, you establish the behavior by encouraging duration. Once you’ve established a 15- second duration, you will start working with distance by having the handler back up.
How to Teach Stay:
To teach the stay cue, you will have first taught sit.
- Cue your dog to “sit.” Using a clicker, my preferred training tool, click when he sits. Stand by him and give an occasional treat.
- Once your dog is able to sit with you standing by him for about 15 seconds, then move on to the next step.
- Start adding movement. Click if your dog stays in a position. Note: If my dog moves into a complete down (lying) instead of a sit, I find this acceptable.
- Rock back and forth. If your dog stays in a sit position, click and treat.
- Pick your feet up as you rock back and forth. If he stays, click and treat.
- Move your feet back and forth in front of dog. If he stays, click and treat.
- Pivot your foot back and forth. If he stays, click and treat.
- Take one full step to the side then the other side.
- Take one full step back.
- Take two full steps back.
- Take a step to the dog’s side. If the dog stays, click and treat.
- Step to the dog’s other side. If he stays, click and treat.
- Walk around the dog while luring him with a treat in front of his nose.
- Give your dog your back while you turn your head to maintain eye contact.
- Dance in front of your dog.
- Talk in a high-pitched voice.
- Run up towards your dog.
- Sing in front of your dog.
- Give your dog your back and only look back occasionally to build stay
- Walk away, giving your dog your back, but still look back occasionally.
- Move halfway around your dog.
- Shift weight and rock in front of him.
- Move all the way around the dog.
Get the idea? You want to vary your position and your movements so that the command does not become linked to a single position in your dog’s mind. Once the dog is able to stay while you move, it is time to add the “stay” cue. I verbally cue this, but I also add the non-verbal cue of my hand flat out in front of the dog’s face. You will repeat all the steps listed above, but this time you will add the cue.
Importance of the Release Cue
Once you have completed the training for stay, you must, of course, teach your dog when it is acceptable for him to leave his position by releasing him. The release cue is very important and often forgotten. When handlers forget to communicate the release cue, dogs are confused or hesitant. Dogs need consistent communication. Be consistent with your release cue no matter what behavior you are releasing because, to your dog, this cue means he will have permission to move around.
I use the word “okay” to release my dogs from a stay. You can use the activities on the preceding page and then the release word that you choose. As you give the release cue, be sure to remain stationary. If you move as you say your release word, your dog will learn to watch your body movement rather than learning to listen for the verbal cue. If you move and then say the release word, he will more than likely follow your non-verbal cues.
Cue “stay” —> Do one of the activities —-> Cue verbal release —> Move
Following the pattern I have suggested will help you set your dog up for success. After you say the release cue, then you should encourage your dog to get up (by using movement, a kissing sound, snap of fingers, or a hand clap). Using this method will help your dog to begin associating the behavior of moving out of the stay position with your release cue.
Prevent Bolting from Car
Now it is time to put your training with stay and release into practice to prevent bolting.
While you are working on this next exercise, please have your dog on a dropped leash for safety purposes. In addition, park your vehicle in a safe environment such as near an open field or a park so that if he should bolt before you have successfully completed his training, no harm will come to him.
- Once your dog has an established stay, place him in his typical resting place in the vehicle Cue a “stay” and release him out of the car to you. Repeat this 3-4 times for 2 sessions.
Be sure to make the release a “non-event.” In other words, after you release your dog, don’t make a big “hooray” deal. Rather, go about your business as normal. If you do act excited after the release, it will encourage your dog to bolt and this is not what we want!
- Practice getting in/out of the vehicle and cueing the “stay.” Leave the door open after you get out. Repeat this 3-4 times for 2 sessions.
- Once your dog is successfully and calmly staying, you can begin to add some distractions like a person walking by at a distance or any other thing that you have been having issues with (like another dog on leash). Be sure when you do add distractions that you do so with distance and that your dog is leashed.
- Once you are confident your dog has mastered the commands, it is time to take stay to the road. Practice your stays in different locations. The first place can be in your vehicle parked down the road from your home, but thereafter, you will need to add some realism to the training.
VOILA! Though it is unlikely you can ever completely secure your dog’s safety, just as it is unlikely you can completely ensure your own or your other loved ones’, by successfully teaching the stay and release cues, you have taken a giant step toward protecting your dog from a potentially life-threatening situation. If you are going to carefully choose just the right food for your dog, just the right exercise regimen, cuddle and love him, it only makes sense to take this vital step to ensuring his safety in the car or elsewhere.
Blog written by Michelle Huntting