My dog barks in the car

My mutt Ace has developed a barking habit. I credit that to me slacking off in training him and not giving my dog enough exercise. Ace sometimes barks in the kennel, he barks wildly at agility, he barks at the door and he barks when I leave him in the car. These are all problems he developed within the last eight months.

All of these issues need to be addressed in their own way, but I am focusing on getting my dog to stop barking when I leave him in the car. It’s very important for me to be able to leave Ace in the car when I travel with him. I like to be able to leave him in the car while I go into a restaurant. When I run errands, it’s nice to let my dog tag along and hang out in the car.

For a good year and a half, I could leave my dog alone in the car for up to a few hours and he would be fine napping and waiting for me. He liked being in the car because he associated the car with me and going to exciting places. Being in the car guaranteed him he would not get left behind.

But recently Ace has decided he wants to go everywhere I go. He does not want to be left behind in the car. Ever since I quit my newspaper job where I worked 10-hour shifts, I’ve been able to spend more time with Ace. He spends less time home alone and less time alone in my car than he did a year ago. This has had negative effects on Ace because now he is more attached to me and wants to be wherever I go.

I like that my dog wants to follow me around, but I don’t like that he becomes anxious when I leave him. Curing these problems before they escalate will prevent “separation anxiety,” which is what happens when dog owners don’t condition their dogs to being left alone. “Separation anxiety” is 100 percent the owner’s fault and can be prevented by giving a dog enough exercise and training. All of Ace’s behavioral issues are my fault, not his.

This post is about how to get your dog to wait patiently in the car for you to return. I have an older post on tips for road trips with your dog.

Here is my plan to get my dog to stop barking in the car:

Dogs learn by repetition, so Ace and I will drive to random places, and I will get out of the car and slowly walk away without him. I will walk about 10 or 20 feet away so I can still hear him. If he barks, I will continue to ignore him and face away from the car. If he’s quiet, I will return to the car and give him a treat. Then I will walk away again and repeat the process. Once he’s been quiet for about three repetitions, I will let him out. Even when we are visiting places like agility class where Ace knows he will come out, I will leave him in the car first. He will exit the car only when he’s quiet.

Some dogs, including Ace, will bark nonstop if they are very stressed. Even when this happens, Ace will eventually pause for a few seconds, and that is when I will move back to the car. If he barks while I am moving towards him, then I will turn and face the other way again.

I will need to practice this several times over the next few weeks in Ace’s favorite places such as parks, the obedience club parking lot, the dog park and Petco. I will also practice this in new areas where his anxiety will be higher. I will probably be practicing this in areas where there are not many people around at first so I don’t look like a complete idiot standing 20 feet from my car in the cold.

Once Ace has been successful, I will park the car close to a building so I can walk around the corner out of his site but still be close enough to hear him. Again, if he barks I will not return. If he’s quiet, I will return and reward him.

I got this idea from dog trainer Paul Owens. He uses this technique for a lot of situations such as kennel training and for approaching an excited dog on a leash. The idea is to reward the dog for good behavior by moving towards him when he’s calm and to ignore the bad behavior by moving away when he’s jumping, barking or crying. The idea will be very effective for breaking Ace of his barking habit in the car.

Ace barks because he wants to be near me. I will teach him that he doesn’t get to come along unless he is quiet. The biggest mistake many people make is to return to the car to scold a dog when he’s barking. Unfortunately all this does is encourage the dog to bark. Most dogs like being yelled at. They think any attention is good, and they figure out really fast that all they have to do is bark and their owner will return.

Josh, Ace and I have a trip planned in three weeks. Since we won’t be able to leave Ace alone in the cabin we will be staying at, he will have to wait in the car for us when we do things like eat in restaurants or shop. Between now and then I hope to have this bad habit completely gone.

By the way, one easy way to get Ace to shut up no matter what is to make him wear his dog vest. He hates his vest and becomes instantly quiet and submissive with it on. Basically, he throws a silent tantrum, lying down and facing away from me. The Gentle Leader also works pretty well for calming him, but obviously I’m not going to depend on these to get my dog to do what I want.

Does your dog have any barking habits? Do you think this technique would work for your dog?

As you can see by the photos, Ace is totally relaxed in the car as long as I am there too.

2/9/09 update: Ace and I practiced our “routine” today. It was pouring rain, and I drove him to three different spots and got out of the car. He did not bark once. Ace waited patiently in the car while I stood out in the rain waiting to return and give him treats. This brought us to a whole new level of “training.”

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  1. Cynthia on February 8, 2009

    My dogs all bark in the car… if you have one dog, I think it’s easier to train the no bark and relax. But with having two or three dogs in the car at once, they feed on each other. I’d have to train it for each one individually first, and then with more than one dog. Which seems like way too much work. 🙂

    I will follow you with Ace in the car, I hope it works! I believe it’s possible!

  2. Apryl DeLancey on February 8, 2009

    Gus isn’t a big barker in general. He’ll howl at other dogs or when he wants food. Other than that, I think he’d rather save up his energy!

    It sounds like you are taking the right approach with Ace. Good luck!

  3. Biggie-Z on February 9, 2009

    Oy, Biggie barks in the car when it is parked, we are gone, and people approach. He seems to have about a 10-foot no-walk-zone. If anyone comes within 10 feet of the car, he goes ballistic. Or if they stare at him. The rest of the time he will wait quietly for us.

    We’ve been working on this, though with limited success since this behavior is often at its worst when we are not around, and it’s hard to set up training situations without also, at times, running into other situations we can’t control.

  4. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 9, 2009

    I understand what you mean, Cynthia!

    Gus is such a good boy!

    Biggie, Ace has the same problem and I don’t know how to fix it other than to use a shock collar and stand where I can only hear him but he can’t see me. But so far it’s not bad enough where I’d even consider doing that. And maybe it’s not so bad if he barks at strangers approaching the car. He doesn’t do it when there are tons of people around, just when one or two people are near the car. And he’ll do it when I’m standing right there so I can correct him myself.

  5. Stanislaw on February 9, 2009

    Hey Dude! It’s nice to meat such a handsome beast! I puke in the car all the time, but I don’t get in trouble for that. Maybe you should try that instead of barking? Maybe?

  6. Christina on February 9, 2009

    We are having trouble with our male GSD barking randomly at new people. Not all new people just some. He asks like he knows not to bark but just can’t stop. Almost freaks himself out with his little fits. Any suggestions? He is 6 months old. It isn’t an aggressive bark just uncontrollable melt down of sorts.

  7. the three dog blogger on February 9, 2009

    Faye used to bark all the time when we left her in the car. Repetition seemed to be the key and, surprisingly, doing it at home out of the way.

    We woulkd leave her there for short periods every day until she got used to it.

    She always has barked when people come near the car though. I don’t mind this though as I see it as a safety measure!

    She gets bored easily though. We have to leave her seatbelt on whenever she is in hte car. She ate the gearstick knob and the handbrake!

  8. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 9, 2009

    Hi Stanislaw – Ace pukes water all the time, but so far not in the car too often!

    Christina – I would keep your dog leashed when you know you will be around new people. Use a prong collar or Gentle Leader to give you the most control. Usually a firm no and a leash pop is enough for Ace, but if he won’t quit barking, I make him lie on his side. If he tries to get up, it’s effective to put my foot on his leash near his collar so he’s pretty much stuck there until he relaxes. I make it very clear that his behavior is unwanted.

  9. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 9, 2009

    Thanks, Three Dog. Repetition is definitely key!

  10. Biggie-Z on February 9, 2009

    Christina, I’d also suggest maybe keeping some treats on hand and treating him when you come up to new people and he doesn’t bark, eventually getting him to associate new people + being calm = treats and praise.

  11. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 9, 2009

    Yeah, when I have treats along Ace never barks because he anticipates getting a treat and he knows in order to get a treat he has to be calm and focused on me.

    Tennis balls also work.

  12. Sweaty Feet on February 9, 2009

    Well my dog never barks in the car, dunno what would happen if I had several together.

  13. Esther Garvi on February 11, 2009

    I think that sounds like a great plan!
    Our dog Dennis Mugu barks for fun all the time. Well, when you hear him, you start wondering if he has imaginary friends. He is on the other hand excessively good at hearing things. You cannot sneak past our street without his knowledge. When we are still several streets away but coming home from a ride, Dennis barks, and I know it’s to let us know he hears us. So when I see no one, I am not quite sure what he is barking at, but there seems to be something.
    Since he was adopted, he has come a long way. He and his dog partner used to bark incessantly 24/24 and the family never bothered to check if there was anyone at the door. Today, Dennis gets feedback (almost) every time, even if it means that I have to go up eight times a night to check. But I don’t make it into a treat, so my “plan”, which works in this particular case, is to “take him seriously”. When there is no one there, I let him know how chocked I am that he would drag me out of bed for nothing, and although he looks at the roof, I know he hears me. And the barking is down to 10% of what it used to…

  14. Christina on February 11, 2009

    We have tried the “settle” type command as recommended by our vet when a firm voice and leash pop doesn’t work. We will have him on side and try holding the leash with our foot or holding him down and it works 95% of the time with great success. Sometimes though he just ocntinues to squeal like a pig and squirm. We don’t know quite any way to escalate it more as it is as escalated as it can get without any sort of bodily force. But he is still a puppy and I think the more we expose him to new situations and the more he will learn his role and how to interact. Thanks for the advice. 🙂

  15. Vee on February 13, 2009

    my dog jake cries like a baby in the car and walter is picking up on this nasty habit.

    We are working on it STILL…

  16. Marie on February 14, 2009

    My dogs do so much better overall when they travel in crates. I can’t say enough about it. It’s kind of a pain to get all set up to go, as opposed to letting them just hop in and drive off, but it’s well worth it when they can all just have their space and relax. Cuts back on the nose prints on the windows too! LOL

  17. Lila Jayne on April 27, 2009

    I have a 9 month old Puggle named Odie who barks and whines constantly whenever I leave him in the car, even just to go pay for the gas I just pumped! He’s always kept on his seat belt and whines and barks even more when he’s in his crate or kennel. Actually, he was in his kennel the other week when I ran into the post office for a minute and had some random woman come inside to tell me she was going to report me for leaving my dog in the car when he just “barks his head off”! I was very upset… but I drive a lot and plan to take Odie everywhere I go this summer so I need to break him of this so I can go to into a restaurant for supper or run into the summer store for an ice-cream without worrying about being reported!
    It sounds like a lot of work, this conditioning idea, but it also sounds like it just might work and having years of quiet time for Odie in the car is well worth the “lot of work” for the next few weeks… or months if he decides to be stubborn!
    I’m going to try it… I’ll let you know how we make out!

  18. Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 27, 2009

    Hey Lila. I am so happy to hear you are going to try some of these techniques. Let me know how it goes! If there are certain treats or bones Odie loves (like Kong toys filled with peanut butter), that might help occupy him when you leave him in the car. Worth a shot. Good luck! I’m glad you are so patient with him!

  19. terry on May 2, 2009

    I thought it was against the law to let your dog in the car for hours. It is also cruel to make your dog lay down on his side and you tramp on the leash close to the collar. Maybe you need to try Don Sullivans way of training or maybe you shouldn’t have a dog.

  20. Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 2, 2009

    Yes, my dog is suffering. Ace, please forgive me.

  21. Pat Durb on May 8, 2009

    Am just hoping that you are aware of climbing temps in cars. Sounds like scary stuff…..

  22. Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 8, 2009

    Also remember that I live in North Dakota where it’s usually cold. But you are right, hundreds of pets die every year when they are left in the car for “just a few minutes.” So it’s nothing to joke about.

  23. lauryn on March 23, 2010

    Maybe you guys can help us. I got my dog Tippy from the Humane Society 3 months ago. Her papers indicated that she didn’t go many places in the car, just the vet and then when they surrendered her. She was fine the first few trips in the car- she seemed a bit nervous at first, but then she relaxed. All of a sudden she barks incessantly. I know she doesn’t have good experiences w/ the car, especially since we took her to the boarders once. But even on short, around-the-block trips, she completely loses it. I can’t snap her out of her fits. She’ll gladly jump in the car- even when it’s running, but she’ll start barking once it starts moving. I feel like it’s too stimulating for her, like she sometimes gets on walks. Should I try a crate first? She’s going to make me deaf and insane if she can’t settle down. Any suggestions?

  24. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 25, 2010

    The key is to desensitize the dog to riding in the car. You could try a crate, especially if she is crate trained, but a lot of dogs are even more anxious in a crate because of the confinement.

    I would make riding in the car a very positive experience and work on it in very small steps. If she’s anxious just by walking up to the car, practice walking up to the car and keeping her calm. Do this 20 or 30 times until it’s not a big deal. Then progress to getting in and out of the car while she’s calm. Once she can do this, then work on sitting in the car with her while it’s not even running. Next, have the car running but don’t drive anywhere. After that, slowly work on taking short trips in the car and rewarding calm behavior.

    I will warn you that this process takes a very, very long time and a lot of patience. Every time you lose your temper and yell at her, it will make the situation worse as she will become more anxious. I’m not implying that you yell at her, I just know the average person only has so much patience.

    I fostered a Pomeranian who acted similar to your dog. She would literally FREAK OUT whenever we got out of the car. It did not work to ignore her until she was quiet. She would literally bark nonstop until we returned. I went through 100s and 100s of repetitions with her and made no progress.

    I would still recommend trying everything above, but if you do not see any progress, then try using a shock collar on a low setting. Give her a vibration when she barks and then reward her with food when she’s quiet. Since you said you can’t snap her out of these fits, a shock collar might be the best option.

    Good luck!

  25. mad on March 27, 2010

    My dog is a barker when I leave her and my other dog in the car. Only one of the dogs bark when I leave to go into the store. She gets wacko but I will try this technique it seems like it should work.

  26. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 28, 2010

    I hope it helps!

  27. Jen on April 11, 2010

    I have a 4 year old Pit bull who barks constantly barks while I’m driving. He only does it if it is just me in the car. Also he barks once I leave him in the car. He will not do any of this if he is with my boyfriend.

  28. Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 12, 2010

    I would definitely follow the above steps to break your dog of this habit. Directing the dog to lie down in the car usually helps quite a bit. You may also want to try crating the dog in the car.

    It could be that your dog sees your boyfriend as more of a leader than you are and therefore he is better behaved around your boyfriend. Make sure you are setting rules for your dog all the time. It is also likely that since your dog spends a lot more time with you he has more of an attachment to you and some anxiety when you leave him alone in the car.

  29. labgal on April 15, 2010

    My lab rides well in the car. No problems when I leave him to get groceries, etc… But if he suspects we are going to the dog park or to play, he will start barking several blocks away and continue until I park. Then he’s quiet so that he can get out. The problem is that it’s while I’m driving and can’t correct him. It continues until we either park or he sees we are not going to the dog park. Arghhh.

  30. labgal on April 15, 2010

    I might add that he is very obedient at other times and knows to stop barking when I command quiet. I have tried having him sit. He does and still barks. I have crated him, he still barks. I have tried citronella collars, he still barks. I can’t exercise him before, that is why we are going to the dog park or play field in the first place!

  31. Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 15, 2010

    I would try a shock collar with a remote so you can deliver the vibration right as he’s barking and then praise him the moment he stops.

    Another option is to simply stop driving until he’s quiet. If he’s barking because he knows he’s going to the park, the goal would be for him to learn that if he barks, the car doesn’t move any close to the park until he’s quiet. Not sure what type of area you live in or if you would be able to pull over safely when he’s barking.

  32. Hye on December 6, 2011

    I got a 3yrs pomeranian male dog in same situation. He barks whenever I get out of the car leave him alone. He freak out, never going to stop barking.
    And whenever I try to park my car, he starts to bark. I can’t go drive through to pick up the food or deposit the money to the bank. I really have hard time to fix him.
    I will try your suggestions above. Thanks.

  33. Dotty LeMieux on December 3, 2012

    I have two good sized dogs, they must go with me a lot in my small car. No room for one crate, let alone two. One has taken to barking fiercely out the window at dogs on the street, even people. The other whines, Sometimes the fist one snaps at the other, displaced biting I think. What would you suggest?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 4, 2012

      Hi Dotty,

      If you are comfortable with a shock collar, that could fix the problem for the barker. If you can control the barker, your other dog may have an easier time remaining quieter as well. You could either get a collar with an automatic setting that will correct the dog when it barks or you could get one with a remote so you control the corrections. There is also the option of a citronella collar that sprays the dog with the unpleasant citronella when he barks.

      If you are not comfortable with the shock collar idea, I suggest taking them out in the car one at a time so you can work with them individually. Try teaching them to lie down or at least find a way to tether them to one area of the car with either a leash or a dog seat belt. Then, reward the dog with highly valued treats whenever he is quiet. You may need to simply park somewhere with high activity so you can safely focus on your dog. I would give a firm “No!” for barking and feed the dog treats for being quiet. Practice in short sessions every day.