Why does my dog bark in the car?
(Q) My nine-month-old Labrador has always travelled well in the back of a car, but lately he has started to bark when we arrive at our destination. This is getting worse as he now barks while travelling.
(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: Sudden onset barking in the car is likely to be linked to the excitement or anticipation of what occurs at the end of the journey. This behaviour quickly becomes a habit as the dog gets to go on the walk or returns to his home or family whom he adores.
Unfortunately, the barking habit usually generalises to every car journey, making driving difficult. In any situation where a dog is becoming aroused, it is important to make sure that he isn’t feeling anxious since this can easily be confused with excitement or naughty behaviour. In any situation, a dog will repeat a behaviour that brings a good outcome. The following suggestions should help you to change his responses effectively.
If he’s barking while looking out of the window, then block his view to reduce the visual stimulation. Gradually, this can be opened up again as he learns to travel calmly. An adolescent dog will benefit from having something to keep him busy during a journey, so give him a chewy toy to work on and keep him out of trouble.
At your destination, don’t allow your dog to get out of the car until he has calmed and been quiet for a short period of time. At the start of a walk, keep your dog on his lead and practise some basic obedience. This will limit the initial excitement and encourage him to focus on you. Praise all calm, quiet behaviour during your trip and don’t be tempted to shout at him. After all, you joining in with his excitement will prolong the problem.
Avoid tempting quick fixes in the form of air sprays, whistles or other aversive gadgets, as these could make him feel anxious while he’s in the car — which could lead to worse problems linked to the resulting anxiety.