A friend of mine, Jessica Brewer, has been fostering a Pit Bull mix puppy who is 8 months old now. She brought him over to our house for a play date with our Rottie Lola a few weeks ago. He behaved nicely in the house, but when they went out to her car to leave, he lay down on the ground and resisted. “Baxter doesn’t like getting in the car,” she said. So we agreed that I would go by her place soon and we would do some clicker training with him.
SESSION #1 — We actually got about as far as I thought we would in two or three sessions! First, Jessica and Baxter and I went in one of their bedrooms, without the other dogs. Baxter got very interested when I clicked whenever he did something good — sitting, lying down, coming closer to me, being still for a while. I was “charging the clicker,” as the saying goes– and he got the idea pretty fast that when he heard that sound, there would be a yummy treat.
I had cut up an organic buffalo hot dog into quarters lengthwise and then made about 10 slices crosswise, so we had about 40 treats, in a plastic ziploc-type bag. He liked ’em!
So pretty soon we went out front, Jessica having put him on leash… which he resisted a bit. He avoided going near the car, and I did notice that when a car drove by about a block away, he listened intently. His history is that he was picked up as a stray in Dallas, so he may have learned then to be wary around cars.
We wandered around her driveway, clicking and treating whenever he would be willing to come closer to her car. He was doing so great that after a while we opened the back seat. He was just a little leery of that, but after a while he was fine again. I got in the back seat and scooted over a bit, and was blown away when he put his paws on the back seat. That deserved a jackpot, as it’s called in clicker training, so I gave him about half a dozen pieces instead of the singles I had been doling out. That left just a few in the bag. I got out of the car and put the rest on the back seat. He gobbled, and the session ended on a high note.
We were even more jubilant when some people who had helped transport Baxter to Jessica’s a while ago decided to adopt him! They couldn’t pick him up for a while, due to other plans, but they will be coming for him very soon.
He went in and out of the back seat several times, and seemed fine when Jessica shut the car door. She got in and started the engine, and Baxter still seemed fine… I was clicking and treating. She drove down her driveway and parked in the cul de sac. When she opened the back car door, he dashed out. We had him on leash still but if I’d been thinking faster, I would have been treating him when she opened the door. Oh, well.
Then he wanted to meander around the cul de sac and sniff things, so we did that for a while.
By now, he had had quite a few treats, and the attraction of the treats was not enough to get him back in the car after he’d had his little ride. We thought we’d done a good day’s work anyway, so Jessica drove the car back, Baxter and I walked up her driveway, and we called it a day.
SESSION #3 — After Jessica picked up her kids at school today, I went over there. She was outside with Baxter on leash, and as soon as he saw me, he tried to run and greet me. Jessica restrained him a little, but still once I was closer, I did get the full force of 67 pounds of Pit Bullish love! (Momentary soapbox: I’m learning more about the several breeds that can be called “Pit Bulls” and being extraordinarily loving is surely one of their characteristics.)
Jessica also reported that Baxter is now very happy to get his leash on and go out the front door, a total change from the first session.
So I got in the back seat of her car, and Baxter came right over and put his front paws in. Click, treat. He went out again. He came back, about as far, I figured that was good enough: click, treat.
Just then Jessica’s stepson Evan came out the front door, and he became part of the training team. When he got in the back seat, Baxter immediately jumped in with all fours. Evan clicked and treated. That happened again, Jessica at the other end of the leash. When Baxter went in yet again, I suggested to Jessica that she sit down too. So Baxter was surrounded by his family members. He liked that, but I could tell he was still a bit too apprehensive to try starting the engine.
But we wanted to do something else, so Evan ran around a bit with Baxter, both of them out of the way, while Jessica moved her car out away from the house.
Dogs’ learning is very place-related, so with the car in a different place and the opposite back door open, it was a new experience. Baxter went in and out a few times, letting Evan and Jessica stay with him in the back seat for a bit longer. “Is this a good place to stop?” I said. “Yes,” Jessica said. So she gave Baxter a jackpot of several treats.
Maybe we would have been able to drive Baxter out in the car today, be we are going at his pace, and that is what matters. Now that both Jessica and Evan understand clicking and treating, I’m guessing that they can do another session before I get over there again. We’ll see! Baxter’s new people are due in a few days.