Car Travel Problems
Some dogs travel well in a car but others bark, are destructive, get sick, or toilet in the car. Finding out why your dog is problematic can lead you to a solution that will enable you both to relax during car travel.
Causes of bad behaviour in the car
Fear and anxiety
Some dogs may develop a fear of the car or car travel, either through lack of habituation when they were puppies or due to a specific incident, e.g. an accident. Anxious dogs are often worse if there are twists, turns or bumps in the road and better on motorways or long straight roads.
If a dog is regularly taken out in the car and is expecting a walk once the car stops, excitement levels will be high. During the journey, the dog is contained within the car and cannot move around enough to release the frustration caused by the delay in getting out, and this frustration usually results in barking.
Some dogs, usually young dogs or those of herding breeds, are stimulated by the sight of objects going past the car windows at speed. They focus on objects in the distance and then spin round as they go past, When the dog finds it cannot chase, it is likely to try to make itself feel better by barking, or ripping the upholstery or biting other occupants of the car.
For dogs that are used to getting all their owners attention, the car may be the only place they are ignored. Dogs that bark for attention in the car are also likely to bark and show other unwanted behaviours in the house when the owners cannot concentrate on them, such as when they are on the phone or with visitors.
Undersocialised dogs and those that have had bad experiences will be worried about people, dogs and/or traffic approaching. They are usually quiet until they see things approaching and will then become territorial, using barking and threat displays to try to keep things away. Some dogs may redirect aggression to upholstery or occupants of the car.
This is common in puppies, and also in adult dogs that have not travelled in cars often. It may begin straight away if the dog is very anxious, or can start later once the dog has been in motion for a while.
Resolving the problems
Dogs that are fearful of being in the car, or are travel sick, need to be gradually introduced to car travel in a positive way. You need to take things slowly, starting with getting your dog being happy to get into the car, and then accepting very short journeys that end in a walk. Adaptil, a pheromone-based product available from a veterinary surgeon can help speed up the process. See also ‘Fear And Anxiety’.
If your dog is barking with excitement, car journeys need to become associated with calmness and waiting rather than excitement and action, by taking your dog on as many journeys as possible that do not end in a walk. Tiring your dog with games before getting in the car may also be a good idea.
If your dog is trying to chase things he can see through the windows, get him used to travelling in a cage, and then cover the top of the cage with a thick, old blanket (make sure there is enough circulation of air around the sides to keep him cool). Make sure he is also getting a lot of chase games with toys when out of the car (go to ‘How To Teach Your Dog To Play With Toys’).
Dogs that demand attention at home and in the car need to learn not to do this. Go to ‘Barking’ for further information.
If your dog is afraid of things approaching the car, you will need to help your dog feel happier about whatever he guards the car from. Go to ‘Territorial Behaviour’, ‘Aggression To People’, ‘Aggression To Other Dogs’, or ‘Fear And Anxiety’
While working with your dog on car travel problems, never leave your dog in the car unattended. He could be stolen or could suffer heat stroke if temperatures in the car rise on a warm day
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