Many dogs bark at other dogs while in the car and the potential causes for this behavior can be several. Until dogs can talk, we can only make some assumptions as to why they engage in this behavior. Nipping this behavior in the bud, sooner than later, is important, considering that, the more your dog barks, the more he'll be likely to repeat this behavior in the future.
The Problem With Dogs Who Bark at Other Dogs While in the Car
There is barking and barking when it comes to dogs who bark at other dogs in the car. Primarily though, we can recognize two distinctive categories at play: dogs who bark to put distance between themselves and other dogs (the canine equivalent of saying "go away!") and dogs who bark because they wish the other dogs to be closer (the canine equivalent of saying "come closer!")
Technically, we are specifically looking at distance-increasing barking in the first scenario, and distance-decreasing barking in the second.
Distinguishing these two forms of barking is not easy; they both can look quite similar. However, you can obtain some glimpses based on how your dog normally behaves around other dogs.
If he's a social butterfly with no mean bones in his body and loves to play with other dogs in the park, most likely he's just frustrated he can't go play with a potential play mate. If he's not very fond of other dogs, barks at them on walks or has a history of acting protective when dogs come near his turf, then there may be more to it.
The biggest problem is that barking in either case is reinforcing. In the social dogs, it's a way to vent their frustration, in the unsocial dogs or territorial dogs, it can be a way to send other dogs away. Behaviors that are reinforced tend to strengthen and repeat, which means that you'll likely be stuck in a pattern of barking in the car if you don't take any steps to decrease it.
Now that we have looked at some dynamics, let's take a closer look at some possible underlying causes for dogs who bark at other dogs while in the car.
A Matter of Frustration
If your dog is a social butterfly, who is easy going and has lots of friends at the dog park, his barking in the car may be due to frustration. Affected dogs are often used to being off-leash and having a blast with other dogs.
These dogs also have a stellar history reputation for being friendly, which makes this behavior often surprising. Many dog owners are indeed shocked when their pups show their first signs of frustration.
More technically speaking, we're talking about what's known as barrier frustration. Barrier frustration in dogs takes place when dogs are eager to meet and greet other dogs and they are prevented to do as they please due to some barrier.
The barrier can be a leash, fence, window, door, kennel or being inside a car. These dogs are so excited and eager to go meet and greet canine friends, that they start barking, lunging and even growling when they realize they cannot.
It's the same type of frustration we may feel when we are used to putting a coin in and 99 percent of the time getting soda. Then, that day the soda isn't released, we may get angry and maybe even kick the machine to vent or in hopes of getting it to release something.
Back to dogs, dogs who are very motivated to meet (decrease distance) are often dogs who lack sufficient impulse control and frustration tolerance to keep at bay these emotions. On top of this, some may be predisposed to become aggressive when they feel frustrated.
It goes without saying that, the less a social dog gets to see other dogs, the more excited and frustrated he will feel upon spotting one. "Motivation can be cranked up with deprivation. Dogs and people become incredibly interesting to sociable dogs who are isolated for long periods. Chronic isolation situations can be very agitating," explains Jean Donaldson in her book: " Oh Behave, Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker."
Did you know? Dogs are very social and their instincts tell them to investigate novel situations and other dogs. Their preferred method is up close considering that they use their noses to get acquainted with other dogs.
A Matter of Disliking Other Dogs
On the other end of the spectrum are dogs who bark at other dogs while in the car because they simply aren't comfortable having them around. With a car being enclosed, such dogs tend to feel rather ''trapped,'' and therefore, feel like engaging more in a "fight" since their flight option (the ability to retreat) is removed.
Perhaps your dog wasn't socialized to other dogs enough or perhaps he has had a negative encounter with another dog once and this has deeply impacted him.
Whichever the case, your dog is likely barking because he wants other dogs to not come close. By barking he may be saying something along the lines "go away, I don't like you!" and because most dogs tend to move away at some point, these dogs will feel as if their barking has worked to fulfill their mission. Hence, as mentioned, the behavior will put roots and tend to repeat.
A Matter of Territoriality
And then you have dogs who bark in the car because they don't like dogs near what they consider as their property.
Most behaviorists seem to agree that it starts around 8 to 10 months and escalates around the age of 12 to 24 months.
Some dogs breeds are predisposed to this. Generally guarding breeds and herding breeds are predisposed to territorial aggression and it can be exacerbated by inadequate or inappropriate socialization.
These dogs may act this way when other dogs come near their cars, homes and fenced yard, but may be OK with other dog in other circumstances- but that's not always the case. Some dogs may combine a dislike for other dogs in general and when they come near their premises.
In any case, by barking these dogs may be saying something along the lines of: "Stay away from my turf."
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs that bark at other dogs while in the car have their own reasons for engaging in this behavior. Now, it's time for the beefy part: how can it be stopped? Following are several tips that can come handy.
- Safety first. As tempting as it may be, avoid letting your dog out of the car to go meet an unfamiliar dog. There are high chances for things to escalate, even if your dog is social and friendly and was barking from frustration.
- Manage the situation to prevent rehearsal. If your dog has a tendency to bark in the car at other dogs, you'll need to break the cycle of reinforcement. Do so by keeping your dog in a crate with blanket/light sheet over it so to act as a visual barrier. You can keep your dog busy in the crate by giving him something valuable such as a bully stick, edible chew or a toy he is not normally exposed to all the time. This can be an option for when you can't train. Many states require dogs to travel in crate anyway when traveling in the car, so this may be necessary, on top of helpful.
- Work on the behavior. When you have time to practice, drive your dog to an area where he can see other dogs while in the car from a distance from which he is under threshold (think nearby a pet store). The distance will help keep your dog under threshold and therefore calmer. Sit next to your dog in the back sit and have tasty treats with you. The matter you will work on the behavior may vary based on the underlying cause.
- For barrier frustration: practice having your dog engage in an alternate behavior that you'll ask to replace the barking. Practice this first at home until you obtain a strong, fluent response. The behavior can be having your dog target your hand with his nose, or having your dog make eye contact with you when you make a smacking sound with your mouth. Then practice this from the car, upon spotting other dogs. Make sure to use super high-value treats to reinforce alternate behavior.
- For dislike of other dogs. Dogs who dislike other dogs may be too preoccupied initially to be able to focus on engaging in an alternate behavior. For these dogs, it may be easier to to simply park at a distance from other dogs so the dog is under threshold and practice the look at that dog game. Such game may also come handy on walks.
- For territorial dogs: territorial dogs may as well benefit from the look at that dog game implemented in the car or other place the dog tends to act territorial (upon watching other dogs from the home's window, fence or porch area).
- Seek a professional: dogs who bark at other dogs out of frustration or aggressively, may be prone to biting. For safety and correct implementation of behavior modification, please consult with a dog behavior professional using force-free behavior modification.