3 Reasons Your Dog Barks In The Car (And How To Stop It)

Getting into the car is an exciting time for any dog!

The anticipation of “where are we going?” can be too much to bear for a lot of canines. Especially if they’re used to to car trips that often lead to wondrous places – like the beach or the dog park!

For some dogs though, one other not so welcome thing accompanies this frenzied excitement – constant barking.

Being locked in a car with a yapping, boisterous dog can certainly be unpleasant, and quickly turns a fun ride in the car into a very disturbing experience indeed for the human occupants.

Especially so if the trip is to be longer than five minutes!

Dog looking out the car window

Why does my dog bark in the car?

To figure out the cause of your dog’s in-car barking, first you need to determine if the barking is based on:

  • Fear
  • Excitement, or
  • Motion sickness

It could very well be a combination of any of the above. Or it could be one problem leading to another (for example, fear leading to sickness).

The psychology of going to the vet

If your dog has had a recent vet visit, he could certainly be thinking of that being an unpleasant experience and barking in fear of not wanting to go back to the vet.

No matter how lovely and gentle your veterinarian might be and how many treats might be on offer, it’s still a scary place with funny smells in the opinion of many dogs!

He is simply associating being in the car with the vet visit which he doesn’t like. And the only way he knows how to express these feelings is by barking.


Negative experiences in the past

Another reason for fearful barking in the car is when a dog is scared to be inside the car, which is a confined place.

Some dogs have a car-phobia of sorts. Whether this is from a past bad experience such as being left in the car alone for long periods of time (which you may not even be aware of if your dog came from a rescue), or from simply being unfamiliar with the car and perhaps just needing some reassurance and training to become convinced that the car is not a scary place at all.

She needs to learn that the vehicle can in fact be an enjoyable place, because it means something thrilling will be happening if she gets into the car (the end destination being the reward).

Stimulation out the window

Many dogs will bark in the car when they see another dog or something out the window that grabs their attention.

When stopping at traffic lights this can certainly be a bit embarrassing when your dog is paying a little too much attention to pedestrians, whether they have canine pals with them or not.

Small dogs walking down the street
Seeing this out the window is just too much excitement to bear for some dogs

And then there are some dogs who will simply bark continually at seemingly nothing but the passing scenery. Again, take note on your next trip what (if anything) your dog seems to be focusing her barking at, or whether it is completely untargeted and what might be considered “mindless barking” (in human eyes)!

Dogs can get car sick too

Car sickness, or motion sickness, is another possibility for explaining the barking issue going on in your vehicle. As WebMD says, motion sickness in dogs is real, and should be taken just as seriously as if it were a human child experiencing car sickness.

Fear and anxiety are a common cause of car sickness. A dog who is deeply fearful can literally make themself sick. Younger dogs are more prone to motion sickness than older dogs, according to the vets at VCA Animal Hospitals, who state that most dogs will grow out of this problem by the age of about one year.

Obvious signs of motion sickness can include whining, drooling, shaking, defecation and diarrhea, and vomiting. Needless to say, if a dog goes through stressful experience in the car once, it can start a cycle of anxiety and fear at the next car ride unless you are able to relieve the stress the dog feels next time he’s in the car, so that he (and you) can relax and enjoy the ride.

How to turn your dog into a quiet car passenger

To get on the road of having a car-friendly canine, you need to condition her to understand that the car is not a scary or unpleasant place to be.

This takes some patience and a plan.

In the case of an over-excited dog, there are things you can do to help alleviate and eliminate that cause for barking as well. Knowing what actions you can take to learn how to stop dogs barking in the car provides the hope you need, to get you on the road to enjoying car rides with your dogs, and not dreading them.

Read on to find out.

dog in the car
He may appear grumpy, but he’s not barking…

Restricting The View

Motion sickness and excitement barking can come about when your dog can see the world whizzing by at great speed out the side windows.

You can even try it yourself – sit as a passenger in the car on even a short trip and look out the side windows only. You are very likely to start feeling queasy in a short space of time. This concept was even studied and published in a journal in 1921!

Does the same concept apply to dogs? Yes it does, and one of the easiest (and cheapest) things you can do is to simply block your dog’s ability to look at the side windows of the car.

Provided it doesn’t obstruct the vision of the driver, blocking the rear side windows (where your dog is sitting) with a heavy duty window shade, or simply an old sheet, can immediately give your dog a more relaxing space to sit in the car.

Most animals will become calm when visual stimulation is reduced, and that’s the concept behind blocking out that vision through the side windows.

The back section of a car like this can be a perfect spot for your dog to travel
The back section of a car like this can be a perfect spot for your dog to travel. photo: k.steudel

If this strategy works to lessen your dog’s barking, excitement and/or motion sickness, over time you can gradually pull back the window covering to reveal a little more window on each car ride – carefully monitoring your dog’s behavior and anxiety levels.

This method can certainly condition your dog to eventually become comfortable with having the windows in the car uncovered completely. For some dogs, restricting some of the side window vision all the time might just be a way that works to keep her relaxed, quiet and comfortable.

If this is a solution that works for you, then you can consider your problem basically solved (unless for some reason you do not want to cover the windows at all, in which case you’ll need to keep up the desensitization training of getting your dog used to uncovered windows gradually while controlling her barking).

Set the scene with some doggy friendly music

The noise of the vehicle can be enough for some dogs to have heightened anxiety. Play some relaxing music (classical, for example, or even music specifically chosen for its soothing effect on dogs such as this soundtrack featuring 20 dog-friendly, relaxing musical masterpieces.

Restraining your dog in the car

A dog that is unrestrained in the car is not only at much higher risk of injury and death in a car accident, but also potentially at higher risk of stress and motion sickness (and as a result, barking and other undesirable behaviors).

Restraining your dog for the duration of the car trip is not a cruel thing to do – in fact it’s considerably more humane than risking his or her life. Just as we wouldn’t allow a child to sit in the back seat with a car seat or seat belt, a dog should also have his own special safe spot in the car.

This is generally not the best way for a dog to travel in a car
This is generally not the best or safest way for a dog to travel in a car

To make it easy, there are some affordable, simple products which help you secure your dog into the car in just a few seconds. Yes, she will need to get used to this new setup but as with anything, repetition and gradual training will lead to the vast majority of dogs accepting car restraint without any stress.

A pet seatbelt like this one is cheap and easy to use. You just clip it to the seatbelt slot and then attach it to your dog’s harness. I’ll be writing up a more in depth article about the different seat belt, harness and other car restraint products in the near future.

If you have a small dog, you can of course travel with him or her in a secure dog travel carrier in the same way that a cat travels in the car.

Although you might initially feel guilty about restraining your dog in the car with a harness or other means, you shouldn’t. Why? Because there are only benefits to doing so. Consider:

  • Your dog will be much safer in the event of an accident or sudden braking if he or she is restrained in a quality safety harness
  • By having the dog restricted to one part of the car, you have more control over what he can see out the window, resulting in a calmer dog
  • No chance of the dog distracting the driver as can be a huge risk with a dog who is loose in the car

Whatever option you choose to restrain your dog in the car, distracting his attention with a much valued toy like a Kong or other chew toy will do wonders in lowering stress levels and refocusing his attention on the toy; rather than what’s out the window or barking incessantly. A busy dog can be a very quiet dog indeed!

Addressing motion sickness in your dog

While a dog who is suffering from motion sickness in the car is not always going to bark (especially in extreme cases of motion sickness), and regardless of whether he is barking or not, if you suspect or know that your dog is getting sick in the car then it’s something that needs to be addressed.

This can be done via the above recommendations for bark control such as restricting the window view and restraint. However its also worth mentioning products like Travel-Ease and others like it, which are natural supplements that have been designed to both calm dogs and help with motion sickness.

Again, I will be writing up a more thorough overview and review of these products at a later date, but they certainly another option to consider throughout your process of helping your dog to be happy, healthy and quiet during her car rides.

Putting the suggestions in this article into practice can help address both barking and motion sickness in the car as they both often arise from the same problem – stress and anxiety.

Training your dog to keep calm in the car

Who wouldn't love a well behaved dog like this in the car? <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/8047705@N02/4446634703/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Photo: John Liu</a>
Who wouldn’t love a well behaved dog like this in the car? Photo: John Liu

Regardless of what the causes are for your dog’s out of control barking in the car, the way you go about fixing the problem will center around gradually getting your pet used to being in the car, and behaving in the car.

This means practice and repetition (and rewards, of course).

  • Practice at home getting in and out of car with the car not running. The dog should sit quietly and calmly, and be rewarded. Another reward can be given when when gets out of the car as this will mimic the reward at the end of a real car trip. If you are going to be using a harness, you should absolutely be starting to use it from this point.
  • Once your dog is behaving well without the car running, it’s time to do the same procedure with the car engine running. Don’t drive anywhere though! Not until your dog has passed this part of the exam with flying colors multiple times. You should be satisifed that she can get in, sit, and behave quietly and calmly for several minutes (at least) in a vehicle with its engine running.
  • Next step: a short drive of a few minutes. Monitor your dog’s reaction (have a passenger in the car assigned to this role!). Provide chew toys and implement any of the strategies that you’ve decided to try if barking occurs. This can include stopping the vehicle and covering one or more side windows. Obviously no rewards should be given if barking occurs.
  • Gradually increase the length of your drives until your dog is relaxed all the time. If using a harness, this should now be second nature to your dog, and something that causes him absolutely no issues. By this point, your dog should be able to calmly and quietly ride in the vehicle sitting restrained in his harness.

Some dogs will respond quickly to this training, while others might take weeks, or even months. With the end result being a quiet, calm, car-friendly pooch, it is absolutely worth your time to go through these steps no matter how many times you need to repeat them, as well as implement some or all of the other recommendations listed earlier in this article.

Once your dog learns to love the car and to behave in the car as you want him to, not only is he going to have a much more enjoyable, fulfilling life full of fun car rides and wonderful destinations, the humans of the family will be considerably more relaxed too!

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