Dealing with a dog whining when the car stops, may be annoying for some dog owners, while some others may be curious about it and eager to know what may be going on in that puzzling canine mind.
Finding what causes the whining to happen in the first place may require some careful investigation. A good place to start is to carefully look for the "antecedent," in other words, finding exactly what seems to evoke the behavior.
An Eagerness to Go Somewhere
Dogs are animals who tend to learn by close associations. Through repetition, they can quickly associate one event with another. The leash shows up? They know a walk is coming. The faucet turns on? They run away knowing they are about to get a bath. The canner opener is operated? They drool in anticipation.
Just as they make these associations, dogs may quickly learn that, when the car slows down and comes to a complete stop, they are usually let out of the car to go somewhere.
This triggers a strong anticipation to be let out. If you therefore stop the car and turn off the engine, your dog will likely whine out of anxiety to be let out and perhaps some frustration if he's not let out quickly enough.
Now, depending on where your dog is taken normally, this whining can stem from a happy form of stress (eustress) or a not so happy form (distress, the bad type of stress).
A Fear of Jumping Out
Sometimes, dogs may whine when the car stops because the know that this would mean they'll have to jump out.
For some dogs, jumping out of the car a bit intimidating. Some dogs may have some sort of pain that makes it unpleasant to get out, and for some others it may be a matter of fear.
Although we perceive dogs as athletes, getting out of the car can be somewhat unsettling because there is little space to gain the right momentum to jump out.
Wanting to Get Out Quickly
It could also be that dogs are particularly antsy about getting out of a car in fear that the car may move again.
Just the other day, I was thinking about this. I went on a cableway ride and even though it slows down considerably almost to a halt to allow people to hop in and out, my instinct was to jump off as quickly as possible.
I soon noticed, that many others felt the same way. They felt the need to enter/exit quickly despite there was ample of time.
Disliking the Unsteady Sensation
Many dogs seem to dislike the unsteady sensation felt when we use the breaks. If you sit on the back seat with an unrestrained dog, you can easily see why.
Every time the breaks are used, Rover is caught unprepared and he loses his footing and even bumps against the front seats or other parts of the car.
Being catapulted around for sure is no fun, especially for puppies or dogs who are prone to getting motion sick.
An Eagerness to Go Back Home
Some dogs may start whining when the car gets closer to home. Dogs are attentive beings who can quickly recognize the road that brings them back to their, home, sweet home, so they start whining along the way.
There's just that something about exiting quickly the car, maybe some fear of being left alone or being left behind, or maybe the dog is thirsty, had enough of being outdoors, is tired, has to pee, or is simply eager to return to a state of "homeotasis", basically, a sense of normalcy with all the reassuring routines associated with being home.
Our Rottweiler Kaiser would get a bit antsy on car rides as we arrived near our home. We would tell him "wanna go home?" and he would tilt his head and start whining and pacing in the car back and forth eager to go back home.
Luckily, the behavior was very brief and mostly contingent upon us telling him that. It was just one of those "cute things' he would do.
However, in some dogs the whining may be prolonged making car trips back home dreadful for the owner who wants to mostly concentrate on driving.
Underlying Anxiety Associated with Being in the Car
Some dogs whine when getting home and the car getting close to because home is perceived as "the safe haven." For sake of example, I went through a phase of being terrified of going on planes.
I had a bad experience once with super bad turbulence (people getting air sick calling for help pushing the flight attendant button, but flight attendants were asked by the cabin to not get up as it was too unsafe, dust in the cabin, roller coaster style dips and odd side-to-side shifts, and worst of all, me looking out and seeing the wings flap up and down like a duck, I didn't know airplane wings could do that so it freaked me out!).
If you looked at me, I looked pretty much chill. Inside though, I was in sheer terror and when that cabin door finally opened, boy I couldn't wait to get out and would have even kissed the ground!
This to say that sometimes, dogs are good at hiding their emotions. For example, a dog who pants in the car may not be hot, but anxious, a dog who drools in the car may be car-sick, a dog who yawns in the car may be stressed, not tired, a dog who lips his licks may be nauseous, not hungry, a dog who paces back and forth may be anxious and not excited about the ride.
It would be therefore important spotting whether there may some subtle signs of anxiety that just happen to be culminating on the way back home.
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs have their good reasons for whining when they car stops. Tackling the exact underlying cause will help you be more successful in your behavior intervention plan.
Following are therefore some potential tips to reduce your dog's whining behavior when the car slows down and comes to a halt.
You may have to try several things to lower the built-up anticipation, but likely you will need to take a multifaceted approach tackling the anxiety from various angles.
Enlist the Help of Friend/Family Member
One possible method could be providing your dog with something tasty to enjoy in the car to keep busy, preferably just *before* he has a chance to whine.
If you know the area where the behavior starts, have a family member or a helper hand him something long-lasting to enjoy (like a stuffed Kong, Toppl, bully stick etc) that will last at least for that stretch where the whining is more intense. A busy mouth, is a quiet mouth!
Now, not all dogs will enjoy something edible and long lasting if they are too anxious. Not wanting to eat indeed is often (although not always!) a sign of a dog being over threshold. In such a case, a different approach would be needed.
Use a Dog Carrier for Car Travel
Keeping a dog in a carrier often is enough to calm dogs down in the car. The advantages of this are various.
By confining your dog he is less likely to rehearse anxious behaviors such as whining/pacing back and forth, he won't struggle with losing footing during turns and stops and it's also safer for the driver (in some places it's even the law!).
Try a Calming Cap
The Calming Cap made by Thundershirt may help calm down dogs during car rides considering that it reduces visual stimulation.
This may be a temporary fix as you work on reducing the anxiety. If the whining happens only on the ride to places or on the ride home, it can be worn only on those circumstances.
Train Better Impulse Control
Training some impulse control games for dogs so to reward calmer behaviors and applying these in various settings can turn helpful. Make sure to include training your dog to sit before jumping in and out of the car on cue.
You can practice training your dog to sit before jumping in and out of the car on cue with the car not going anywhere and aim for a calm response. Then you can practice going for a very little ride, and then back, repeating several times, gradually driving a bit farther and trying to reduce the chances for whining.
Praising and having a helper feed treats when your dog goes 10 seconds with no whining can help reinforce calmer behaviors. You can then progress to asking for a down stay in the car and praise/reward that, gradually increasing duration. Here's how to train dogs a rock solid stay.
The goal would be keeping your dog much under threshold as possible and busy so not to induce whining. The more the whining takes place, the more it puts roots and establishes.
Create a New Routine
Some dogs may struggle listening and following cues when they are in a too anxious state of mind, but they may still be able to take treats. In such a case, you can have a helper sit back with your dog and feed treats to keep that mouth busy.
This helps establish a new routine, from "I am in the car and feel stressed' to "how fun! I get lots of treats when in the car!" The whining would therefore be replaced by the anticipation of getting treats.
Consider Calming Aids
Anxiety supplements or calming aids (Adaptil collars, DAP pheromone sprays) along with behavior modification (desensitization and counterconditioning) may help in the case there is some low level anxiety with going to places or on car rides.
Severe cases may require prescription sedatives along with a behavior intervention plan set by a dog behavior specialist such as a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.