Graidy and I are in the car riding to nowhere. As we breeze down the road, I think about how it was we got here.
Anyone who’s had a rescue dog before knows to expect that there may be little quirks that show up here and there. Graidy is no exception. Graidy’s early life was a difficult one. He was found as a starving street stray in a New Jersey city. Even though all’s been well since he’s come to live with us, there are still remnants of his past that will always affect him.
One of the major issues is that he doesn’t want to leave our property. He doesn’t want to be taken for walks. He doesn’t want to go for rides in the car. He doesn’t even want to go into the front yard. When asked to do any of these things, he panics. Not just a little bit. A lot. We’re talking full-blown panic attacks.
He just wants to stay home. He’s happy here. He feels safe here. Why would anybody in their right mind want to leave here, he seems to be saying.
I used to try to gradually get him used to going for walks. We started walking on leash in the backyard. Great fun. Got really good at it. Tried to move it slooooowly, in tiny steps with lots of positive reinforcement, to the front yard. See Graidy turn into a bucking bronco. With all the positive training methods, patience, and creativity at my disposal, it was still an Absolutely-No-Go. Never mind try to get Graidy out onto the road. Holy Hannah! That’s all I have to say about that.
And car rides? Not without industrial-strength throw-up cleaner and a carton of paper towels. Graidy has had major issues with stress-induced car-sickness.
I accepted long ago that Graidy doesn’t want to or need to leave the property. The life he is happiest living is not diminished by being limited to our (three-acre) fenced backyard. But I do need to occasionally take him in the car to the vets.
I could have just steeled myself and thrown him into the crate in the back and not cared how he fared on those trips. But I stink at steeling. I had to find a way to get Graidy to be okay in the car.
First, I started by closing all the garage doors and opening all my car doors and calling Graidy into the garage. I’d sit in the car and throw treats into the back seat. He was free to climb in and get them or not. If he hopped on the backseat, he was free to hop back out as soon as he wanted.
Once he was comfortable hanging out in the backseat, I’d close Graidy and me in the car and just sit there in the garage–treating the whole time. As soon as the treats ran out, we’d leave the car. Then we progressed to backing the car out of the garage and sitting in the driveway. Then making it several yards down the road. Then to the end of the road… It’s been an incredibly long process.
Because I don’t want Graidy to associate getting in the car with only going to the vet’s, we practice taking short spins. Graidy and I will hop in and tool around town, taking in the sights. Graidy will occasionally poke his nose out the window, but he mostly lies down and sighs a lot. Then we safely, and uneventfully return home.
I won’t say that Graidy loves the car now, but he willingly comes with me when I ask. He’s even made the two-hour drive to my mother’s with me a few times and has been able to sleep comfortably most of the way. So, as with any acquired skill, we’ll keep reinforcing the good experiences with lots of love and patience, and we’ll keep practicing our rides to nowhere.