Dear Car Talk Pet Experts,
My dog likes to go under the car, especially on hot days. You got a problem with that?
Dr. Sip: You bet we do! Vets often see serious or fatal injuries related to not knowing where your hound is. If he or she has been napping under the old Chevy Impala, there’s a potential recipe for disaster.
Melissa: The other big issue is that all cars will eventually leak SOME fluid -- especially if you’ve been following Car Talk’s questionable advice.
Dr. Sip: Even if a dog doesn’t mainline straight from the gas line, if these liquids get on Fido’s fur, he’s likely to lick them off, which is bad news bears for any pet. Many car fluids are extremely toxic. Training can help though.
Melissa: Management is a huge part of dog training. There are many people out there who think, “My dog should just know not to go under the car, on the counters, or in the mail box.”
Dr. Sip: But it’s not reasonable to think a dog just knows not to do these things. They have to be taught, and until they can be taught, they have to be managed.
Melissa: I would argue that even if the assumption is that the dog is trained, situation management and active supervision are still required. My four-year-old (human) knows not to color on anything but paper. But she sometimes forgets. And that’s why we’ll have to paint the walls before we move.
Dr. Sip: A budding Jackson Pollock?
Melissa: I wish. I think she was going for Starry Night, but what she got was The Scream.
Dr. Sip: What did you do?
Melissa: Like the dog trainer I am, I just threw things at her until she stopped. Oh, wait, that’s not what happened at all! Old advice for raising dogs would include such techniques as throwing things or spraying fluids at your pet to get them to stop the behavior you disliked. This ran the gamut from barking to hiding under a shady car in the middle of summer. This doesn’t work though, because hiding under a shady car when it’s 95 degrees outside makes perfect sense to a dog and is incredibly reinforcing. Lay under the car, it’s cooler. They aren’t doing anything wrong from their perspective.
Dr. Sip: We also now know that this style of training can backfire in a real way. If a pet has a bad experience near or around a car at any point in his life, the result can be unwanted anxiety. The old school way of training might stop the behavior (sitting under a car, barking, jumping, etc.) but has a lot of potential fallout, like making your dog nervous or fearful of the car. (How to deal with that issue, right here.)
Melissa: Instead, we suggest giving your pet ample shade somewhere else - or leave your pet in the house while you tinker with the car. In a perfect world, your dog would not be anywhere near the garage or driveway while you’re working under the hood or getting ready to hit the road. It’s not a good environment for a pet. If you must have your pet with you near your car, a better option is to fully roll down all the windows and even open the doors and let your dog hang out on the backseat.
Dr. Sip: This is (of course) assuming your car isn’t in a location where it can overheat or on a lift or jacked up in any way.
Melissa: In a perfect world, you work on your car stuff, your dog works on his dog stuff and then you both share a well deserved dessert at the end of the night for a job well done.
More about Dr. Sip (who is a practicing vet in Berkeley, CA) and Trainer Melissa (who wrote “Considerations for the City Dog”) and can be found here.