Why do dogs bark in the car?

This morning, on a lovely peaceful bike ride which takes in an area in Leigh on Sea – Two Tree Island, I was passed in a car by a someone with dogs.  I know they had dogs because I heard them coming, I heard them pass and I heard them drive on for some time.  This poor person was driving to Two Tree Island with their dogs barking continuously in the car.

dogs bark in cars
Why do dogs bark in cars?

So why do dogs bark in the car?

There are 3 main reasons that dogs bark in the car.

  1. They are barking at a danger they have perceived, and warning it to stay away from the car.
  2. They are barking in order to get some attention from their owners (like naughty children act up to get a reaction) who’s attention is focused on driving.
  3. They are feeling quite stressed about the coming walk, and the adrenalin rush is causing them to bark.

Let’s look at each reason in turn…

Barking at danger to protect the car

Dogs are territorial.  They have an understanding that the territory may need to be protected.  They see the car as a moving territory, where every danger is very close, so they bark to warn the dangers “stay away, or I’ll ‘ave you!”.  They don’t understand that they are safe, and you are protecting them.

What can you do about it?  Well it’s about taking charge generally, so they understand that it isn’t their job to try to protect you all the time.  This is about showing leadership in a way that makes sense to them (our human efforts can be quite confusing).  I have written articles about helping your dog to understand that it doesn’t need to bark to keep you safe, which you can read by clicking on the words.  This shouldn’t be treated exclusively though, the barking is a symptom of an underlying problem, which needs to be addressed totally.

Barking for attention while you drive

If your dog is barking in the car for your attention, the chances are it is probably used to getting your attention on demand.  This means that your dog thinks that it is higher than you in the hierarchy, so you probably have other problems elsewhere (e.g. pulling on the lead, jumping up etc).  Personally, if my dog barked at me in the car, I wouldn’t take it in the car.  It would have to learn to control its behaviour before we went anywhere.  And this starts in the home.  A dog should know that it couldn’t get attention by hassling you.  Which means that if your dog is hassling you, you need to ignore it.  Not tell it off, or ask it what it wants.  Totally ignore it.  If its behaviour becomes impossible to ignore, then walk out of the room and shut the door behind you.

To stop this behaviour in a car.  You can get in the car, and if your dog barks at you, get back out of the car.  On a cool day, you can shut the car door and walk out of sight.  On a hot day, you can just get your dog back out of the car and back into the house, calmly. Or if your dog is secure, get out of the car, leaving the doors open, and stand there, not looking at your dog, waiting for them to stop barking.  Once they are quiet, get back in and repeat as many times as necessary.  This can be a long and arduous process, and I wouldn’t suggest that you try to just tackle the barking in the car on it’s own.  You also need to address your dog’s behaviour on the whole; what is going on in other areas, and why your dog thinks it can boss you about!

Barking in the car because of stress…

(Think warrior chanting before going into battle, to keep himself pumped up!)

Many dogs get very stressed about the idea of going in the car, or going on a walk, or both combined.  But often owners don’t notice, because stress can look very much like excitement.  A wagging tail, bouncing around, appearing to be hurrying you up…  A wagging tail means a heightened state, so you don’t know whether this is for good or bad reasons.  If their eyes look a bit starey, it’s most likely stress.   If this is the case, stop.  Don’t keep taking your dog for a walk using the car to get there.  You may be doing it more harm than good (we know how bad stress is for us humans).  Have a read of “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell and change your relationship with your dog for the better.  Let them hand responsibility for keeping the pack safe over to you, and then let go of their stress.

Ultimately, for whichever reason, the real cause is your dog thinking that it might be responsible for and in charge of you.  This isn’t the way it is meant to be, and means a hard life for you and your dog.  If you want an easy life, and a relaxed dog, then please get in touch.  Based in Leigh, I travel to all areas of Essex and further afield to Suffolk, Kent, London etc.  Call for an informal chat and we can see what’s going on for your dog.


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