Teaching an undersocialized dog, who was hit by a car, to go against his best instincts to get near a car, no less in a car, is a challenge at best. It didn’t help that the week we decided to car train Elmer, it was so hot out that we had to keep the car running so the AC could be on (don’t tell my pal Toyota Gerald)

Elmer was not too keen on getting near the running car, but there are a few trick to getting a nervous dog interesting in the car: stinky dog blankets in the back of the car, mysterious food wrappers on the floorboards, and piles of pupperoni are all a great ways to peak an untrained dog’s interest.

Each time we work with Elmer, we practice and reinforce what we have taught him to date and then we ask him to trust us with something new. But we always want his experience to be positive. That is not to say that we don’t ask him to do things that he doesn’t want to do, but we are building a trust bank with him. The most important thing is that when we finish our training exercise for the day, nothing bad happened.  We want him to associate working on new things with positive feelings and a positive, trusting relationship.

We have talked about this before with Tasha’s training and socialization and this theory applies to Elmer as well: dogs are very monkey see monkey do as they are by nature pack animals. So, if you get in the car and act like it’s a party in there, eventually, with patience, a little gentle encouragement, and a lot of peer pressure, they will get in too. Elmer  was no exception to this rule.

He started out walking with me and happy to be on a walk and as we approached the car – he became visibly uncomfortable.


Curious, but hesitant – Elmer checks out the car

I got in the car and gave him enough leash to stay outside of the car. He immediately went into pancake mode.


Elmer resorts to his go to mode: flatten yourself like a pancake and you don’t have to do it

We gently let Elmer know that he wasn’t going to get away with his pancake routine. We gently tugged him forward until he stood up. He was not allowed to back up – we keep him firmly in place until he decides that moving forward was his best option. When he did, we immediately give him rope to move around. We used this same technique to get him in the car.


Elmer is learning, the flattening trick is not always going to work.

Here he is getting a little tug to keep him from moving back away from the car.


Me thinks no


Aww – you can’t make me!

A little tug and release and he is in the car!


Oh yes I can!



Elmer decides to move up from the floorboard to explore the seat

When you ask Elmer to do something he is not comfortable with, he refuses to look at you and he refuses to be bribed with treats. Looking away is a very common dog behavior that indicates that a dog is uncomfortable. It is a non confrontational way for the dog to say, “back it up and go away, you are making me uncomfortable”.

Eventually,  if you are quiet and patient, fearful dogs becomes habituated to whatever new thing you are asking them to do. Elmer quickly realized that he was safe and that nothing bad was going to come from his new experiences.


His patented “if I don’t look, this isn’t happening” move with a nervous yawn



Maybe the car is OK after all – there is AC in here.


Nervous tongue flick

Elmer starts to relax. He started looking around and smell the new environment. He quickly discovered the empty Starbucks cup….but he was not ready to look at me or take a treat from me just yet.


Ooh – what’s that, Starbucks?


Elmer decided is was OK to look at me – but that tongue flick says he is still nervous


I like AC…maybe this is not so bad


At last, relaxed Elmer

Once Elmer relaxed we give him some quiet praise. Not all fearful dogs like or understand talking and tone of voice, but Elmer’s fairy dog mother has been working with him over the last month out in her front yard and because of their relationship, Elmer likes to hear that he is a good boy and he likes pets. He only likes pets and praise when he is comfortable, so once he is relaxed and no longer situationally fearful, he is willing to take treats and pets and that in turn rewards his good behavior.

15_ RelaxedHappyCarElmer

Party in the back seat – Elmer is ready to ride!


After a small amount of time working with Elmer in the parking lot, Elmer is ready to take a car ride to his foster home. We will continue to work with him and start to crate train him in anticipation of his heartworm treatment – but please don’t forget, Elmer is looking for a foster and or his forever home!

Elmer is a great dog. He is a young guy and is very flexible and adaptable. He loves to be with people, he is not bothered by cats or kids, he is going to be a loyal, loving pal wherever he goes. Let’s help him have a happy ending to his big adventure.

Also, please let Elmer’s story remind us all that we should not leave dogs on the streets to fend for themselves. Poor Elmer has heartworms, has  been hit by a car and shot with a bb gun and yet he remains a gentle, grateful companion. In a short amount of time he will have a clean bill of health, but if he had not been picked up – he would still be breeding and making more little Elmers that would wander the streets waiting to be hit by cars and shot by a pellet gun or worse. Let’s work together to make a city where a spay and neuter culture is the norm and stray, wandering dogs are not acceptable.

And as always, a big shout out to Dr May, Dr Perkins and Arapaho Road for giving us their time and a place at their clinic to help socialize Elmer and all of our GDO alum. They make our system possible.