Train your dog for good in-car behavior

Next to family, another one of our frequent companions in the vehicle is the beloved pooch. Their behavior onboard can range from extremely excitable to quite scared. Thankfully, Motor Image Subaru arranged for us to meet with the Dog Whisperer himself, and Subaru brand ambassador, Cesar Millan in Singapore.

The ultimate pack leader is in Asia to find new recruits in his show, “Cesar's Recruit: Asia, Season 2.” The winner of which will join him in his Los Angeles Dog Psychology Center, as well as help him take on the toughest cases and preach the word about maintaining calm and assertive energy.

He cheerfully sat down with us to discuss the do's and don't's of bringing your dog along for the ride.

1. Associate car rides with positive energy

Before bringing the dog onboard, one of the most important things that Cesar shared with us is how to condition our dogs for a drive. The dog has to see car rides as something positive. This makes it easier to put him in a calm and relaxed state.

“It's important that all the associations are positive. You don't want the association to be negative because he immediately goes into frustration. That frustration leads him to anxiety. That anxiety can lead to aggression,” notes Cesar.

It's all too easy to accidentally develop a negative association with the car. Cesar cites common examples.

“Most of the time, what people do, they lie to the dog. They throw food or a toy. The dog jumps in the car and they close the door. The dog went in for the food or the toy, not with the intention of staying there. Now the dog views the vehicle as a trap.

“Then you also have people who are lazy and they grab the dog and put him in there. The dog feels kidnapped. The dog develops anxiety in the car. He starts barking, becomes territorial in the car.

These are common signs of anxiety and frustration — the result of putting the dog where he doesn't want to be. This is why Cesar insists the dog should want to enter the car on his own.

Cesar Millan on driving with your dog 

2. Drain the energy

It's difficult to communicate to the dog that the vehicle is a space where he should sit still. In addition, negative association with the vehicle and anxiety can cause your pet to be restless and want to wander around the vehicle. To prevent this, Cesar's advice is quite simple.

“Exercise the dog before you bring him into the car. Drain the energy.”

A dog that has exercised is less restless. This makes him more likely to sit still and simply enjoy the ride.

3. Invite your dog, calmly.

Once the energy is drained and the dog is calmer, it's important to maintain that energy and calm composure. It's all too easy to get him excited again and in the wrong mood for a car ride.

“A lot of people invite the dog with an excited voice, 'Let's go ride the car! We're going to the park!' They put the dog in the car and he's excited too,” said Cesar Millan. “The human put him in there excited. Now the car represents an excited source.”

“It's important that the dog is willing to go in there, but you don't want the dog to be willing to go in there excited. You want him to go in there calm,” Millan added. “The dog would never rather stay at home miserable and bored than being with you. The dog doesn't know what a car is or does, they go in because they see their human go in.”

With exercise done, approach the vehicle in a relaxed manner. Open the door and allow it to enter on its own. If the vehicle is high, ensure the dog wants to go in first and then assist them.

Having the dog at the right energy level has added benefits too.

“It's when he gets excited that you have to clean the whole interior. If they stay calm, they don't drool. If he relaxes, he stays in that place,” notes Cesar.

Cesar Millan on driving with your dog

 4. Let him settle

Don't drive off just yet. Let your dog find a safe and comfortable place to settle in the vehicle. An excited and playful dog is fun when you're at home or at the park, but can be dangerous when in a moving vehicle. You can't calm your dog down while driving. In addition, your dog might not be ready for the forces generated by accelerating, turning and braking.

“It's best if the dog stays in one place,” says Cesar. “God forbid, there's an accident, the dog can become a missile. Or the dog can also cause an accident. People have a tendency to put a dog in their lap. That is very distracting. This is where the dog should not be, for safety. The dog doesn't have a seatbelt.

Cesar Millan on driving with your dog

Important points

Besides the steps illustrated above, Cesar asserts that these steps won't work unless the proper environment is in place. It's important to establish a regular regiment of discipline, exercise and affection.

“Everybody should walk the dog, every dog should have a job — it's part of the rules, bounds, and limitations — and then you give them affection,” cites Cesar. “Let them earn food, water, and affection. Most dogs don't earn anything. It's being given to them. It develops an entitled dog who is frustrated and has no idea about rules, bounds, and limitations.

“Give whatever you want to the dog, be it a bed, toy or treats, but let him earn it. That way, he's using his own ability to live and the appreciation is bigger. If you just give him the toy, he likes it for a while then he gets bored. Then you gotta get another toy.

This concept is a universal one. When asked about any adjustments pack leaders should make depending on the breed, Millan is quick to correct that there is none.

“The breed is meaningless. There's more power in a bigger breed, but the behavior is the same. You can have an anxious chihuahua or pitbull. Never focus on breeds. People think that being that breed, they were born a criminal. It's being racist. The problem is a lack of education.

“The breed has nothing to do with why dogs become aggressive. They're all animals, all dogs.

It all goes back to his main thrust of discipline, exercise and affection.

“A breed, like a Border Collie, is born with a degree, is brought into the city and he doesn't have a job anymore. You don't have to teach him to do sheep herding anymore. It's instinctive, but there are kids running, people in bikes, and he starts going after people. He sees people running and his instinct is to bring them to you. If there's no structure or rules, they become chaotic. Like in Singapore, the rules apply to everyone, not just Singaporeans. It's the same rules, bounds, and limitations.

As such, Cesar stresses that just giving affection isn't enough. The dog has to learn what can and can't be done, release their energy in a positive way, and receive affection after all of that.

“Most people see the dog as a source of excitement. What I'm saying is, the dog is not just for that. It's very important that people remember to maintain instinctual behavior. It's healthy. That way you see you dog as a source of calmness, love, and confidence.

“It's not about training a dog, it's about rehabilitating people. You have to help people understand what they're doing. I don't make people wrong, I make people aware," concluded the dog whisperer.