Photo by @palmettomoonpointers
For us humans, barking can sometimes be a real nuisance. But for dogs, it is their way of communicating. Because barking occurs for a variety of reasons, it is important to first understand the reason behind the behavior before we try to modify it. The three main reasons for dogs barking in the car are anxiety, barrier aggression, and excitement. If your dog’s barking is distracting you from keeping your eyes on the road, follow these tips for how to combat it and cerate a safer driving environment for everyone.
Tips for Combating Anxiety
These are the dogs that likely had a scary event occur in the car in their past and now have a negative association with it. A lack of experience can also cause fear, as well. Some dogs will associate the car with only going to scary places (vet or groomer) which can make dogs very anxious to go in the car. If you feel the barking is occurring for one of these reasons, our main goal with the modification plan would be to create more positive associations with the car. This is possible by pairing the car with something your dog loves, such as a favorite treat or toy. Starting with short drives around the neighborhood and then back home are also a good idea, so the dog can start to predict where he is going and that he is always coming home. Or if your dog has a favorite location such as a local park, you can start taking trips just to the park and home. The main goal is to get your dog looking forward to riding in the car, instead of fearing it.
Tips for Combating Aggression and Frustration
These are the dogs that bark at certain stimulus that pass by the car, such as other dogs or people. It is very common for these dogs to also be reactive towards the same stimulus while on a leash. The reason for barrier frustration is either (1) excitement or frustration of wanting to go say hello or (2) fear or aggression. modification plans for this behavior include creating a more positive association with the stimulus, as well as teaching the dog what to do when he sees it. One simple way to do this would be to find an environment where you can expect to see the stimulus (a park, a parking lot…etc), stop the car, get in the back seat with the dog, and every time your dog sees the stimulus, feed him with his favorite treat. Use something very high value and only save that treat for this exercise so it can remain special. During this exercise your dog is learning to create a more positive association with the stimulus as well as learning to look at you every time he sees it. I do not suggest using a verbal cue such as “look, or focus”. Because in the future you want to be able to safely drive and not have to use any cues or treats. Instead you are just going to teach your dog that the visual cue of the stimulus – good things happen when I look at my human. This takes several lessons full of repetition, but before you know it your dog will have what we call a “conditioned emotional response” to the stimulus and the barking will decrease. You will then work up to being able to do this while being in the front seat of the car, and then while driving.
Combatting Excessive Excitement
These are the dogs that love going places! They also can be difficult to manage as they may tend to move a lot in the back seat. If this is the case, we suggest using one of Kurgo’s car restraints, such as a seatbelt. An interactive toy can also help your dog to calm down and focus on something else. Teaching them a reliable “wait” command for when you get to your location is very helpful, as well, as dogs will bolt right out of the car as soon as the door opens. Instead, teach them to calmly wait while you open the door and don’t allow them to jump out until you give a release word, such as “OK”. This may be best to first practice in your driveway without the added distraction of being at their favorite location. It’s also important to ignore the barking while in the car as you do not want to reinforce it by touching them or talking to them.
There are many reasons why dogs bark in the car, but with specific behavioral modification plans, this can be worked on. Once the root cause of the barking is identified, you should be able to work towards having a more peaceful ride in the car and a safer environment for everyone on the road.
Kelly Sullivan is a certified professional canine behavior consultant from NH. She specializes in serious behavioral modification while using positive science-based techniques. She offers both private in home lessons as well as group classes and was voted # 1 dog trainer in NH for 2017. Learn more about Kelly at www.DoggonitNH.com