How to stop your dog from wanting to chase cars on walks!

Posted on 10. Apr, 2013 by in Got a Question?, K9 News, Training Tips

This month’s “Ask K9 Etiquette” question: “When I’m walking Rosie on a leash she will lunge and bark at cars that go by.  I pull her back and tell her to “ignore.”  She does listen but I would like to eliminate this habit.”

Car chasing is always a scary experience.  There is always the fear of leashes breaking or being ripped out of your hand so you totally are correct in trying to eliminate this behavior.  Because Rosie has had some previous training you are one step ahead of the game.  Having a strong ignore command can be very helpful when trying to teach a dog not to be reactive to a stimulus that excites them.  If she did not have a good “ignore” command I would recommend some basic command training prior to desensitizing her to the cars.


The best way to teach your dog not to chase cars is by starting in a stationary location.  Walking is exciting to the dog and also results in the having a lot of moving stimuli to focus on.  Being stationary makes it a lot easier for the dog to be trained. Once Rosie can watch cars on leash without trying to bark and lunge at them you can start practicing on walks.  It could take several sessions of stationary car watching though before she learns to be well behaved. I wouldn’t want Rosie to miss out on her exercise while you are training her so we need some options to of what to do when she lunges at a car on a walk meanwhile.  The best option is to teach your dog a “find it” command.  This is very simple.  Start by dropping a handful of very yummy treats on the ground.  As Rosie goes to eat the treats say “find it” and click.  Let her eat the treats.  Play this game a lot for no reason. Drop treats in your house and ask her to find it, in your back yard, and on walks when there are no cars.  After playing this way for a few days you can start using it on walks when cars approach.  I like to drop in in the grass on peoples’ lawns since it is harder to find treats in grass then on the sidewalk and also safer since it is less likely a treat will roll into a street. Now it is time for you to be aware of your surroundings.  The first step is to notice how far away the car is when Rosie gets excited about it.  This is not when she starts barking it is when it perks her interest.  This is her behavioral threshold point.  Lets say that she gets excited at cars 10 feet away. When you see a car coming at around 15 feet you are going to drop a bunch of treats on the ground and tell Rosie to “find it.” Make sure there are enough treats so that the car can approach and drive away while she is looking.  If for some reason she reacts instead of finding her treats make sure you punish her by redirecting her behavior with her “ignore” command like you have been.  If she stops reacting and “ignores” the car make sure to click and treat her for responding appropriately to her redirection.  The next time a car comes you will have to set her up for better success by walking slightly on to someone’s lawn prior to asking her to “find it.” Also place yourself in between her and the road.

Practice Makes Perfect:

Meanwhile you should practice desensitizing her to the cars.  To do this you will have to find a large place to practice that is on a busy road.  We have already determined her behavioral threshold point. For this example we stated it was ten feet away.  Stand 15 feet or more away from the road.  Have Rosie stand next to you or in front of you.  The second Rosie looks at the car click.  She will then turn to you and you will hand her the treat.  If she turns back to watch the car again, click the second she calmly looks at the car.  She will then turn back to you to get her treat.  Repeat this until the car is out of view.  You should repeat this for several cars until she seems to almost immediately look towards you the second she sees the car.  When this happens click and treat her and then move a few feet closer to the road.  You will repeat the same exercise as before only a few feet closer.  Click the second she calmly looks at the car.  When she turns towards you because you clicked, hand her a treat. Repeat this exercise at this distance until she almost immediately looks at you at the sight of the car.  Then try moving slightly closer.  Remember these sessions should only last 5-15 minutes.  You will not make it to the road in one day.  If she reacts negatively you are pushing her too quickly.  Tell her to ignore the car and when she does click and treat.  Then move back a few feet instead. Repeat the exercise at a further distance several times and then end for the day so you can end on a good note.

And Then the Real World:

Once Rosie learns to behave while watching cars at the edge of the street when you are practicing you then can start training her this way on your walks.  The moment she looks at the car click her.  When she turns back towards you give her a treat and repeat.    If the coordination for this is too hard to do while you are walking you can click her for glancing at the car and then allow her to play a game of “find it” as her reward.  Over time you will decrease the amount of times you click her for glancing at the car.  This means that you will click her instantly every time she looks at the car while you are walking until she almost immediately looks at you the moment she sees the car.  When this happens start clicking her every other time she looks at the car.  As long as the good behavior remains then try every three or four times until you can wean out the clicks and treats for looking at cars.  Sooner then you know it you will have a dog that walks lovely on a leash even in high traffic areas.