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Kurgo Dog Blog

5 Steps to Stop Your Dog from Barking in the Car

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Do you love to go places with your dog, but whenever you do, he or she makes a racket, barking at everything you pass or at seemingly nothing at all?

There are usually two reasons dogs exhibit this type of behavior:

1. They are frustrated. They want to be in the park, and they wanted to be there 5 minutes ago! Like dogs who’ve been car sick, they have associations with the car too, but this time good ones. In their heads, car trips equate to going to fun places.

2. Anxiety or Stress. Some dogs can be stressed, and barking is the way they cope with this emotion. For these dogs, you may want to take a look at the bigger picture and how you can help them calm down, but that’s a story for another blog post.

The training process for both sources of barking are similar. For these dogs, you want to make the car a relaxed and uneventful place with calm and boring associations until they learn a new way of coping with the car. Therefore, that means car trips to the beach, park, forests or anywhere else your dog likes to go are off the menu for now. You can still go to those places of course, but you’ll have to walk or use public transport temporarily!

I’ve chosen to use food-based chews for this exercise, as the dog will usually lie down and relax when chewing and will get the nice serotonin feeling that chewing can bring. It’s also hard to bark or howl and chew at the same time.

Step 1. With your car parked, and the doors open, let your dog into the car, sit inside it yourself, and offer him something food-based to chew, such as Pizzles or cows' ears. I would avoid Kongs or anything that could cause frustration at this point. Once he’s finished, you can both get out of the car, and go back inside. Remain very calm yourself, move slowly and use a quiet voice. Repeat this exercise a number of times. If your dog is doing well, you can wait a few minutes after he’s finished chewing before you leave the car.

Step 2. Repeat step one with the doors closed. Again, once he’s finished chewing you may be able to stay in the car a little while longer if he is calm. Having some classical music playing on low can be soothing for some dogs.

Step 3. Repeat step two, but this time when the dog is ensconced in his chew turn the engine on. If the dog reacts and seems to get excitable, turn it off again, remain calm. It is important not to engage with the dog if he does begin to bark. Looking at him, speaking to him (or shouting), or touching him are all feeding into the behavior. Instead, without looking at him, you can use a soft open-palm hand signal (without training, dogs automatically respond to this). You can search for some videos highlighting the impact of this hand signal on your dog. If he or she is barking at this point, you may need to return to step two.

Step 4. When your dog is coping calmly with step 3, you can try moving the car a small amount (out of the driveway and back in, or to the end of the road and back). If he or she starts barking, you may need to try an even smaller distance or go back to spending more time with just the car engine running.

Step 5. Once your dog can master step 4, you can begin really gradually stretching out the journeys using the same process we used for the nervous dogs. You can continue to use your food-based chews to keep your dog nice and calm, and make sure that the end point of the journey is always uneventful. Try a drive around the block or perhaps a drive to the post office. Start to bring him when dropping the kids off at school or sports or picking people up from the train station.

Remember, even once your dog can calmly travel as far as the park, make sure to keep bringing him on as many boring journeys as possible too. This will help prevent the dog from regaining his expectation that every trip in the car is worth getting excited about!

Does your dog have motion sickness, anxiety or fear of riding in the car? Read Training Your Dog to Ride in the Car: Foolproof Steps.

Steph Rousseau is a canine behaviorist and dog trainer based in Dublin, Ireland who blogs on her own website, www.stephsdogtraining.ie. She is a member of the PDTE (Pet Dog Trainers of Europe), and has spoken at various events around Europe. 

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