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How to Stop a Dog From Acting Protective of the Car

Updated on July 17, 2016

Why is My Dog Protective of the Car?

Dog Barking in Car
Dog Barking in Car | Source

Why is My Dog ''Protecting the Car''?

Many dogs become more aroused when dogs or other people come nearby the car. The reasons for this may be many. One is perhaps that dogs feel more in power, being higher than the dogs approaching, another may be dogs feel ''trapped'' in a car and therefore feel like their space is invaded. On the other hand, dogs may develop ''barrier frustration'' since they are impeded from getting to the person or dog and build up frustration. Many people assume the dog is ''protecting the car'' but good protection dogs act protectively only when there is a real threat. The dynamics of this were explained in my previous hub:

''Why is My Dog Protective on Walks?''

The assumptions for acting ''protective of the car'' can be many. Regardless, of the cause, just as lunging/barking at people, it's a dog's attempt to send the other dog away, indeed, in most cases, the behavior stops until the dog or person is out of sight. Mission accomplished for the dog!

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How to Stop a Dog From Barking at People Approaching the Car

A good way to reduce and stop this behavior is to go to the root of the problem and work on changing the dog's underlying emotional state. Most likely, your dog is barking/lunging/growling because it perceives the stranger as a threat. Classically conditioning your dog to associate the presence of people near the car with treats, is a good way to reduce the problem. Wondering what classically conditioning means? Read more about Pavlov's law here: A guide on behavior modification terms .

How to Get Started: What you Need

  • A volunteer to drive
  • Tasty Treats
  • Treat Pouch

Start this exercise at home: ''Equip yourself with good ammunition. Good examples are hot dog slivers, freeze dried liver, chopped up steak, chunks of roasted chicken and so forth. You want these treats to be soft and in small bite sizes so they can be delivered quickly.'' Fill your treat pouch with these treats and make a smacking noise with your mouth-- read about dog COR training, as soon as your dog looks at you, deliver the treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You want to do this until your dog automatically looks for the treat upon making the smacking sound. At this point, congratulations! you have classically conditioned your dog to associate the smacking noise with treats''. Do this exercise several days ahead the car ride.

Enroll somebody to drive the car and sit in the back seat with your dog. Park in a slightly frequented area. Every time your dog sees a a person or other dog coming near, make the smacking noise with your mouth and deliver a liver treat or other treat of your choice. After some time, you may again start observing Pavlov'a law: your dog may start drooling at the sight of people. Just make it clear that the closer people come, the more frequent and the higher value the treats become.

''This exercise ultimately changes your dog's emotional state of mind, going from the aroused ''go away, you are a threat'' to the anticipatory ''Mom, dad! I saw a stranger, where's my treat, where's my treat!!?''

***Note: It is very important to work under the threshold, this means from a distance where the dog is likely not to react. If people come too close at the initial stages of training, the dog may get too aroused and may be unable to cognitively function. If you notice your dog is reverting back to her barking/lunging behavior, very likely, you have gone too fast for your dog's comfort. Simply park your dog in a quieter area. This work takes weeks, months of practice to start seeing some results, so take it slow. Enrolling your dog in private classes, may be a good start so to create a foundation of self-control and training. If you practice this enough, have good timing and are consistent, you will ultimately see results.

Dog Crates: A Great Management Strategy and Solution to Barking in the Car

***While this training method may work, often when dogs are left alone in the car, they may revert back to barking. This is often due to the fact that they feel more vulnerable when left on their own devices. Try to minimize the occurrence of leaving your dog alone in the car. Every time your dog gets to bark/growl/lunge, the behavior reinforces and is one step closer to undoing all the work and results you have accomplished so far.

So what to do, if you must leave the car? Invest in a dog crate. Most dogs automatically settle once in the crate. It may be worth covering the crate on one side with a blanket or towel if seeing strangers may cause your dog to bark from inside the crate. Many States require dogs to travel in crate anyway when in the car, so this may be necessary and provide a good solution to the problem.

***Note for puppy owners: puppies needs loads of socialization, especially between the ages of 4 to 16 weeks. It is a good idea to include in your puppy socialization program having strangers come near the car as you deliver treats to your puppy.

Disclaimer: Please consult with a veterinarian and/or dog behaviorist if your dog is exhibiting aggression. You are fully responsible for any of your actions. By reading this article you are accepting such disclaimer.

Does your dog bark at strangers when in the car?

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    • profile image

      LitterHouse Pet Store 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. Oscar does not really bark, he just runs. I have been searching pet stores for pet products that keep him close to home. May have to do the invisible fence

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      We have a dog in the family that is over protective and very scary. But he's really quite gentle otherwise. Thanks for sharing!


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