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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

how to stop your dog from going berserk in the car

Hurricane, one lucky pup
 owned by Jen Hoffman


If you don’t stop now, I’ll  pull this car OVER!

How many times did you hear that as a kid? Did it work? Well, if your dad said it, maybe it worked for a short time!

The problem:

Ah, those wonderful car rides that send your dog into a tizzy jumping back and forth barking like a lunatic when you are passing another car, motorcycle, person, or animal! What’s a human to do?

Sometimes taking the dog along for a ride can be a real delight especially if the dog is social and enjoys meeting people. But what if your Fido gets set off by other cars, bikes, animals, etc. thereby making the drive unpleasant, the end result seemingly not worth it, and possibly causing a bit of danger? Then you may want to rethink taking him.

(By the way do you know why Fido is used so often when people refer to a dog? The answer is at the bottom of the blog. )

This type of behavior might be seen more in herding breeds which have the desire to herd anything that moves, however any neurotic dog can be bothered by things while riding in a car. I once had a person tell me that his dog goes berserk if the blinker or the wipers are turned on. Keep in mind that the noise from your blinker or wipers may become a trigger/cue for the dog if they were in use while the dog was already in this excited state of mental craziness.

These series of events may begin small, a few barks here and there or some subtle body movement that you may or may not notice, but over time with the noise or movement of the passing traffic you’ll start to notice the dog getting more and more aggressive as vehicles pass and then continue to get worse over time until you are screaming at the top of your lungs for the dog to… …SSSTOOOPPP ITTT!

Why does this happen?

Believe it or not the dog is being rewarded in some way and that can come from your words, a touch on the dog’s body, or a treat while the dog is acting out. The most likely scenario though is that he believes  his crazy actions at that very moment are making that car (or other object) go away. He does not know that car is going to pass you anyway (or that the wipers will stop if you turn them off), what he does know is that by behaving the way he did, he got that damn car to move away from you! Remember dogs always do what works for them.

What’s a dog to do? Who knew that riding in a car could be so exhausting?
Can you imagine the stress that the dog must be feeling to think that only his actions will move these undesirable objects away from you?
Wow, a City dog must get really stressed going for a two block ride with its owner!

Once this whole whacky wonder ride begins and you continuously take him for a ride in the car, you are putting him in the throws of something that you know will stimulate him to that crazy point. This is something I would stop doing immediately while driving because this is dangerous to you and others around you, (specifically me!) should the actions of the dog make you lose control of the car.

How do you fix it?

If you have a dog struggling with this behavior, until you can get it under control it is best to use a crate or a doggie seat belt rather than allow him to be loose in the car. You may also want to invest in some ear plugs for yourself as well because you may be in for a long haul!

There are a few commands that every dog should know and listen to very well for a car ride if they are of the crazy excitable type. These commands are, ‘Leave it, sit ~stay or down~ stay, speak & quiet’ as any of these should have your dog remain in a calmer mode. If the dog already has these commands down 100% then use them in the car.

People often tell me “I took my dog to puppy class and the dog is trained and listens to every command I give to him inside the house.”

Sorry, news flash! If he does not listen in the car then he is not fully trained but is trained only when it suits him and that means you have more work ahead of you.’

Why train Speak and Quiet?

In order for the dog to know what quiet means you must first teach him speak, then teach him quiet. When he knows what the quiet command means you can use it at the first sound of anxiousness. The ‘leave it’ command should mean to the dog, “leave everything and anything alone that you want and put your attention back on me!” This means stop looking at the car, stop barking and getting excited and give all of your attention back to the owner. It’s kind of like helping a child focus on something else rather than that toy at the counter that they really want!

Start training the above commands in the house, and gradually take the dog to more distracting places. Go to the yard and teach the commands there, then take him to the driveway and teach them there, then take the dog into a parked car without the engine turned on and work on the commands there.

Gradually take the dog inside the car to sit but do not turn the car on right away, just sit and reward good behavior. Then start the car and wait a bit until you know he is calm then start the wipers, turn them on and off manually so you have control. Praise the dog for sitting nicely then do the same with the blinkers if these are stimuli that bother the dog.

Keep these sessions very brief to start, and gradually increase the time the dog stays in the car. Praise and reward all good behavior. By doing this you are showing the dog how you expect him to act when in the car.

When the above things no longer drive him nuts then you want to take the car to the end of the driveway and park it there letting other cars pass by. Again this should be brief to start and gradually built up over time. Give your command ‘leave it’ as your dog sees a car coming up the street.

If you live in a rural area where cars only pass when a herd of cows come through, well then you’ll need to enlist the help of a friend for a day to drive back and forth in front of you. Obviously a friend who will do this for you would be very deserving of a nice dinner afterward!

If you practice the exercise with a friend you will have more control as to when a car passes which may give you the time you need to settle the dog before the next passing. You can also have the friend stop their car right in front of your car and wait for you to give a signal for them to move. I would not give a move signal until the dog is calm because you want him to think that your actions made the car move, not his crazy behavior.

Have a signal for your friend to stop immediately as needed because sure as I’m sittin’ here typing this, you can count on poor behavior for the first couple of tries once the other car starts moving! You’ll use a stop signal if the dog starts acting up so the dog does not think its actions caused the other car to leave. The more you can do this throughout the day the faster the dog will learn.

Keep in mind that dogs do not always carry over what they have learned from one place to another, this is why it is important to always work on commands anywhere you go.

At the time you start training this new behavior you may want to use a seat belt made for dogs so the dog learns that this new apparatus brings with it new rules. If he is left loose to roam the car then old behaviors may creep back in.

Some people have unfortunately resorted to shock collars to try and curb this behavior but shock collars are not going to retrain the dog and the dog will always know when that collar is not on. As well, what the dog perceives when he gets a shock for barking at a passing car is that the car is hurting him in some way so he may get much worse over the long run which of course makes it harder to train later.

So if your life looks like the video below, it cant be a peaceful ride for you. Start your training now! Heck even the owner that is filming from outside the car can’t stand the noise of the dog!

And how safe do you think this would be while driving?

By the way, the answer to the Fido question above: ( I bet you forgot about it didn’t you?) Fido was the name of President Lincoln’s beloved dog and it became a popular name as names go. Fido is Latin meaning ‘I am faithful’ and so it goes that a dog is faithful to its owner.



  1. Remote Shock Collars are one of the most effective, easiest and most humane training aids available. Remote Shock Collars are placed on a dog's neck, allowing a trainer to deliver small static corrections of varying strength by remote control. The correction the dog gets from the remote dog training collar is no different than static from walking on carpet. The benefits of working with a remote dog training collar is the trainer can immediately correct a dog's mistakes at a distance far greater than leash training allows. A Shock Collar is a safe, effective and humane way to train your dog.

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