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Why Does My Dog Get So Aggressive in the Car?

In addition to his veterinary work, Dr. Mark also trains dogs—mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.

Car aggression is a common problem in dogs, and it's always better to start treating it early.

Car aggression is a common problem in dogs, and it's always better to start treating it early.

How Do You Keep a Dog From Being Aggressive in the Car?

"I own a 7-month-old Samoyed (Oct 2022). We usually drive him to a nice place to walk, and for the most part, he sits on our lap and falls asleep on the way. But on the drive home, when we are about 10 mins away, he starts growling and snapping at us if we approach his leash, face or even the center console of the car. This continues until we are home, and we have a hard time getting him out of the car since no one wants to get bitten.

He is fed twice a day, given water regularly, and we keep the outings no more than 30 minutes; the drive home is about the same length. We take him on a pee break before we head back into the car.

He is always so sweet on the drive out, but on the way back, he becomes a terror. What are we missing, and how can we make things better? Thank you." —Jean

How to Curb Car Aggression in Dogs

I cannot tell you what the original trigger was that made him start acting aggressively on the ride home, but even though it may no longer be present, it is now a learned behavior.

We are training our dogs, whether or not we know it, from the minute we bring them into our homes. He has now learned that if he acts aggressively, he is able to stay in the car as long as he wants.

All cases of aggression are easier to treat if dealt with early. Please take the following steps immediately:

  • Investigate Potential Physical Causes: Take him to your regular veterinarian for a physical exam, preferably after an episode. This does not sound like epilepsy but a behavioral problem. Many people find there is a physical cause for the behavioral change, however, and unless it is taken care of, all of the training and changes you make are not going to help.
  • Enroll Your Dog in Obedience Classes: The classes will probably only be once a week, but you need to practice every day to emphasize that you are the trainer.
  • Get a Private Trainer If You Need Help With His Lessons: The trainer can ride in the car with you and observe his behavior in the car.
  • Consider Medication: After training has started, you can ask your veterinarian about medications to help with behavioral problems. Not all dogs will need medication, but they can help you when using counterconditioning relaxation training. (1)
  • Consult a Veterinary Behaviorist. Most people find this helpful, as the behaviorist is even more likely to spot the problem if training is not effective. (2) You can ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist, but do not wait for more than a few weeks to make an appointment.

He is a great-looking dog. Please take care of this as soon as possible to give him the best chance of getting over this behavior before he bites someone.

Sources

(1) Ian R. Dinwoodie, Vivian Zottola, Nicholas H. Dodman, An investigation into the effectiveness of various professionals and behavior modification programs, with or without medication, for the treatment of canine aggression, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Volume 43, 2021, Pages 46-53. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787821000174

(2) Pethelpful, Mark dos Anjos DVM, Dog Aggression: Most Succesful Treatment Methods (Current Research and FAQs). https://pethelpful.com/dogs/best-dog-aggression-therapies

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Mark dos Anjos DVM