Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pondering Jumping into the Car

Beckett loves the car but getting him to jump in the car? well it doesn't happen. He is a healthy big dog, in good shape, it shouldn't be a problem. But, I've never seen Beckett jump, ever. In fact, until recently, I was sure he did not even know how to jump - never mind jump the two feet into the car.

The first clue, that I was sorely mistaken came in the form of a dog toy on my lofted bed, a bed that is easily three feet off the ground (the bed posts are 4 feet). Perhaps, I thought, Beckett tossed it up there. I straighten the covers and waited, the next day I came home and noticed a dent, a suspiciously dog size dent in the covers. But really, as I may have mentioned earlier this bed is over three feet off the ground and Beckett can't even jump into the car. So with Beckett near by I tossed a few treats onto the bed, without the slightest hesitation he jumped.
And the truth became apparent, maybe Beckett wasn't keeping himself from jumping into the car, maybe it was me.

I had been inaccurately reading his limitations. Not that dogs don't have limits. In fact I know they do, I'm just proposing that maybe as people we aren't always seeing those limits as clearly as we might. This is one of the reasons I love operant conditioning. Operant conditioning gives the dog a choice. As owners it can be difficult to know when we are pushing the dogs beyond their limitations or like in my case, are so far away from their limits that we are doubting our own dogs abilities.

So with the knowledge that he was capable I resolved to train him to jump into the car. What was lacking before? I decided it was real motivation on his part and patience on my part. After all when you put the dog into the car you usually have someplace to be and if your me - your probably running late.

To solve Beckett's motivation deficit, I employed a brand new super annoying squeaky toy. To confront my own lack of patience, we started practicing when I didn't actually have to be somewhere at a certain time.

After several enormous failures, I decided to take the two person approach, one person in the back of the car squeaking the toy (me), the other holding the leash making sure everyone was safe and no one was going to run away in frustration (this could be either me or the dog). It took maybe 4 or 5 minutes, I could see him working it out and then... jump. It was epiphany: for me, I'm not sure about the dog.

It is still a work in progress. Beckett doesn't understand that I am not always going to lift him into the car - as experience has taught him is usually what happens. The process requires quite a bit of patience on my part, as I have to wait quite awhile before Beckett will even consider jumping into the car. But it is working and with time, patience, treats, and a squeaky toy that could give anyone migraines, we are beginning to get the hang of it. Now all I have to do is keep it up, which means leaving extra time to get the dog into the car, something that takes a lot of effort for myself who is always perpetually late.

Maybe I'm not alone? when training a dog maybe at some point we all have to take a step back and ponder what are my limits and what limitations actually belong to the dog. I'm relatively certain just as often as people underestimate certain aspects - they are overestimating others.

Is the problem with your dog jumping really that she is a puppy or is that you haven't taught her a better way to greet people. Maybe the limitations are your time and effort - not the dogs ability. Consequently, maybe your dog is well past her limits if in a place like a pet store she can't take treats, respond to commands, and all you can see it giant the whites of her eyes? Maybe your pushing your dog so far past her limits, he or she can't even function.

How does one know? Something to ponder.


  1. I recently adopted a greyhound. The first time ever getting in my car, of course I picked her up. She then jumped in and out of the car just fine several times. Until two days ago when she was coming with me to work and refused to get in and of course I did not allow myself enough time for this. I tried to get her to go in for a few minutes and then grew impatient. She is a good jumper and she knows what to do, I think she just doesn't want to now. For whatever reason. She doesn't seem to dislike the car but I guess she doesn't seem to like it either. I will definitely take some time (I tried her fav squeaky toy but not with enough time.)We'll see how it goes. Lots of love for her since she is not very treat motivated unfortunately. Thank god for squeaky toys.

    1. Congrats on your adoption! Have you tried those cuz balls (they are super annoying) my dog loved them. Maybe just a new toy dog would do? My dog would do more for a new toy then an older one. Congrats again! Give your dog lots of love for me.

      P.S. The treats might grow on her over time or sometimes it takes awhile to find the ones she really really likes.