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.”