Help, My Dog Lunges at Cars!

Lunging at cars, trucks, bicycles and other moving objects is a common and frustrating behavior issue. We often see this behavior in a dog that wasn’t socialized as a puppy. Maybe the puppy didn’t get to leave its yard during the critical social development period, or perhaps lived in a quiet rural neighborhood where fast-moving objects were few and far away. Now these things startle and create a fear response from the dog.

Dealing with this problem can be difficult, especially if the owner and dog must take daily walks where traffic is unavoidable. As with most canine behavior problems, prevention is possible. By age 12 weeks, a puppy should, among other things, visit 12 locations, be exposed to 12 fast moving objects, and 12 different noises.* Exposing a puppy to a variety of life experiences early, makes novelty a routine part of his existence, not something to fear and react to.

Unfortunately, reactive dog owners cannot turn back the hands of time. We’re now looking at a behavior modification solution, as the window for socialization has long closed. The solution is learning to read the dog’s body signals of low-level discomfort before he is in “reaction mode,” and teaching him an alternative response to the scary car, such as making a U-turn, or focusing on the owner. Then consistently rewarding the new behavior with a high-value treat. If this protocol is implemented correctly, eventually, the dog will begin to choose the easier, rewarding, non-stressful response over the lunging. It can take a lot of trial and error and the patience of a saint, but the outcome is worth the effort!

If you have a dog that lunges at cars (or other dogs, people, bicycles, etc.) it is best to contact a professional pet dog trainer to help you implement a behavior modification program.)

*Positive Paws Dog Training, 2002, Margaret Hughes, adapted with permission from PatSchaap’s “Rule of 7’s”

Susan Claire is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, in Broward County, and owner of PlayTrain, Positive Dog Training! She can be reached at 954-349-5969. Dogs and their humans are invited to send their questions to: susan@playtraindog.com.