How can I get my dog to learn the dangers of traffic? I reward him after making his stop at the curb when we’re out on leashed walks, but he doesn’t seem to get it the next time we cross the street.
Signed, Dillon’s Mom
Dear Dillon’s Mom,
I believe it is very important to teach your dog to wait before you cross the street. About four steps before you reach the curb have Dillon walk at your side in heel position. If he knows the “heel” command use it now. A step before you reach the curb ask Dillon to “Wait” and pull back gently on the leash. You and Dillon should be stopped side by side. Resist the temptation to stand in front of him if you also want to give him the sit command. Tell Dillon “good wait”, take three deep breaths, and say “cross” and cross the street. You must do this every time you want to cross the street. Make sure that the cars come to a complete STOP before you cross. You don’t want Dillon to think that the cars will always stop for him if he walks in front of them. Make sure that when approaching the curb and while crossing the street your mind is only on the task at hand. If you walk the same neighborhoods, it is important to be consistent about where you cross the street. A few years ago, I was walking my dogs on a busy avenue that travels through town. There was a loose black lab across the street from us. The dog stepped out into the traffic and a car honked at him. He quickly retreated to the sidewalk. He stood for a moment gazing at the traffic and then walked down to the next block to a side street where he waited, looked both ways, and then crossed the side street. He was now at a crosswalk that crossed the avenue. He took one step off the sidewalk into the cross walk and waited. The cars slowed down to a stop and he proudly crossed the street. It was an “a-ha” moment for me. It is so important to have a routine and to be consistent with it. It was as if that Lab first said, “There is a shorter distance to the golf course then the way my person takes me. I’ll just cross here.” Then when he almost got hit he must have said, “Oh, I get it now. No wonder we do it that way.” Sometimes when we teach our animals commands they think it is a game, but with maturity and socialization they start to see that we are teaching them to be well adjusted in real life. This is a situation where I would avoid using treats. You want your dog to be focused on what he is doing and his environment not what you may have for him in your pocket.
When you are in a quiet environment tell Dillon about the appropriate way to cross the street. Show him with pictures in your head about what you want him to do and explain to him with pictures of what would happen to him and how he would feel if a car did hit him. The pictures in your mind are very powerful.
Here is what some of my friends have to say about crossing the street:
Jasmine: “It is really important for your mom to put her foot out on the road first. If she does that then you know it is safe to walk. Cars can kill little dogs or hurt our bodies worse then getting stepped on by a horse.”
Angel: “It is very hard to be mindful when you cross the street because sometimes there are people or critters on the other side that take your mind away from the fast racing cars. I like to ride in cars. I would rather be in the car with my mom then left at home. It is hard to think that they won’t stop for you, but sometimes they may not see you. My mom (person) tries to teach me to be careful, but sometimes I forget.”
Molly: “I don’t see what the big deal is. I can run across the street faster than any car can catch me. My people are always screaming at me to stay away from the road. They don’t understand that if I run in the road the tall grass doesn’t bother my skin. Sometimes people don’t understand me.”