Ask the Trainer | Charlie’s crazy in the car |

Ask the Trainer | Charlie’s crazy in the car

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – Our 1-and-a-half-year old Jack Russell terrier is named Charlie. We hardly ever leave him at home because he doesn’t like to be alone. He loves to go places with us, but drives us crazy in the car. Every time the car slows down at a stop sign or traffic light, Charlie shrieks and barks. What do you think is going on with him?

– Frustrated with Charlie

Dear Frustrated,

Charlie has learned that when the car slows down or stops, he will be left alone while you shop. To help him with this problem, Charlie must be desensitized to the car changing speeds and must be convinced the car stopping doesn’t mean he will be left. You’ll need two people to work on this problem; one to drive and one to train. Don’t feed him his regular meal so he will be hungry. Load up on his favorite food (cheese, hot dogs, steak, chicken) and get in the car and drive. Each time the car slows down, begin to feed him the treats. Continue to work until he starts to become full and less motivated by the food. At this point, go home and end the session. Do this as much as possible. While desensitizing him, do not leave him in the car alone.

You didn’t mention what he does when left home, but you should also start teaching him how to be alone. Crate training can be very helpful, but needs to be done slowly or he will associate the crate with you leaving. A crate is a sturdy plastic, fiberglass, wood, metal or wire box just big enough for a dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in comfortably. It can be used with the door open, at the dog’s convenience, or with the door closed, when mandatory confinement is necessary. When properly introduced, most dogs love them. Dogs are den animals and a crate is a modern den. They are not, however, appropriate for long-term confinement. A dog should not be left inside the crate for more than 3-4 hours at a time.

Step 1: Start with the crate door open and toss in some irresistible treat. If he hesitates to go in, drop the treat close enough to the opening so he can stand outside and get it.

Step 2: Gradually toss the treat farther into the crate.

Step 3: When he is routinely entering and exiting the crate without hesitation, start using a verbal cue “go home” as he goes in.

Step 4: When he happily goes into the crate and stays in anticipation of the treat gently swing the door closed. Don’t latch it! Open the door and give him a treat. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the amount of time the door stays closed before opening and rewarding.

Step 5: When the dog will stay in the crate for at least 10 seconds without anxiety, latch the door, take one step away, return to the crate, open the door and reward. Repeat this varying the time and distance.

Helpful hints

• If at any time during the training, the dog starts to whine or bark, don’t let him out until he stops. If you let him out while he’s fussing, you are rewarding and strengthening that behavior!

• If the dog starts fussing, you have probably progressed too quickly. Go back a few steps.

• Give your dog a specially stuffed Kong inside the crate. This will keep him busy for awhile and will help to create a positive association with the crate.

• Feed your dog inside the crate with the door open.

– Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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