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How to Get Dogs to Behave in the Car

Audrey is a medical transcriptionist and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including grief and loss, pet care, and more.

Learn the best tips and tricks for getting your dog to behave in the car.

Learn the best tips and tricks for getting your dog to behave in the car.

Getting your dog to behave in the car can be very challenging. While it might seem simple, it's anything but. Here are some techniques that are painless and may help your dog behave better.

Tips for Traveling With Dogs

Except for the howler monkey singing, I have found that these other things have worked really well for us!

Don't Skip the Rest Areas

Always interrupt car travel for breaks to get the dogs out and walk them around—it is also good for the driver. At most, go an hour and stop and have a lope around, let them potty, and have a drink of water. The MOST a dog should travel at a time is recommended at four hours, but I think that might be pushing it for large or active dogs.

Consider a Crate

Crating a dog is safer, especially if the dog is smaller. It also protects the dog more in the case of an accident. It also obviously prevents said dog from trying to get into the front seat of your car and take over the driving. I would never advise traveling in a car alone with ANY loose dog. At the very minimum, a gate in back should separate them from you.

Have Snacks and Supplies Handy

Make sure you bring water, treats, food and potty bags. Make sure your dog has a collar, tags and leash. In the odd event that your dog gets loose somewhere foreign, you want that collar and tag on him or her.

Start With Smaller Trips

If your dog displays anxiety about traveling from the outset, start slow and take small trips. Reward the dog for quiet behavior and good behavior in the car.


Attach a Water Bottle to Their Crate

Dog drink bottles attached to crates are great. If the dog will not drink from them, apply a dab of honey and they will figure it out! Always make sure you give the dog plenty of water.

Be Wary of the Heat

Dogs are not recommended to be left in cars for great lengths of time if the temperature is over 60 degrees outside. You should leave the windows down on all sides a few inches to allow airflow but again, if the temp is over 60, the inside car temperature escalates rapidly.

If we are shopping in the summer (or even in the winter), usually one of us walks the dogs and the other shops and we trade off. We also sit outside and eat weather permitting with our dogs rather than leave them in the car.

Secure Smaller Dogs

For small dogs, a harness or seat belt is advised in case of sudden braking. We have friends who had a chihuahua in the back seat and when there was an accident, he ended up getting hurt simply because he was thrown all over the car.

Don't Forget the Chew Toys

Place chew toys or favorite toys inside crates or in the back of the car with the gate if the dog appears more content with them.

Monitor Your Dog's Motion Sickness

Be aware that some dogs have a hard time with motion sickness and make sure you do not feed him or her for several hours before traveling if that is a problem.

Getting Dogs to Behave in the Car—My Experience

Up until recently, I did not think we had a problem with any of our dogs riding in cars! We actually didn't to any noticeable extent until the last five or six months. However, in retrospect on thinking about it, I suspect it was there all along but for some reason it did not come to the forefront until we lost our other dog. Then it became crystal clear that yes indeed we had a problem. I needed to go in search of a solution for—and pronto!

Let me explain—we have malamutes and sometimes in their inherent stubbornness, it can be a little belatedly that you realize "Houston, we have a problem." Denaya is our older malamute and until May of this year, we had another malamute who was a male and was a few years older than Denaya.

Let me preface all of this with the fact that this breed of dogs is meant to go—they love riding in cars because that means that they get to do that—go! I had noticed that whenever we loaded them up to go somewhere when there were the two of them that they did the malamute 'yodel' or 'singing' as I like to think of it, but it was never that bad!

Well, since Kodi died, it got that bad! Gradually over the period of several months now, Denaya began not yodeling, not malamute singing, but what I like to refer to as Howler Monkey Screaming—in the back of the SUV. No matter what we tried, it was to no avail and it just kept getting worse instead of better.

At first, we thought it was some kind of separation anxiety from Kodi (it may very well be but unfortunately, she's not talking about her issues). It was never though as if she didn't want to go or balked at the going!

She was first out of the blocks to go. We would leash her up and get her outside to the car where she would proceed to launch herself into the back like the athletic dog that she is. She would start a bit of whining (low-key) while we loaded up Griffin our puppy after we brought him home—but she did that even before we had Griff so could really not pinpoint any correlation there—as in "I'm so jealous."

Crate Training in the Car

As soon as we started to back out of the driveway, it would start. No matter if we went around the block or we went on a four-hour jaunt with lots of stops, there was no stopping her. This was not the little bit of whining that one could ignore either or drown out by turning on the radio. This was the mother of all screeching—the over the top ear-splitting octaves that seriously made me think of asking Bob to pull over more than once and throw mama from the train. But how to fix this?

Now that she had begun this terrible habit, we tried everything we could think of - I researched on the Internet; I read and reread dog books. Basically, what I came up were a few tricks which I will mention below, but one salient feature stood out from all my research—if you could not break this habit, you might as well forget it.

To prevent it from becoming a permanent fixture of this dog's personality, the only way to treat it would be with sedatives. Ridiculous! For a shopping day to Bend, I will need to drug the dog up every time?

The problem obviously did not seem to be in the actual going since she loves that. The problem began once the motor started or we started moving. She was a rescued/abused dog, so I have no way of knowing if something triggered this response or something brought it to a head when Kodi died and left her behind. In truth, she has always seemed well-adjusted enough on her own about many things and she was always the alpha—so again not making sense! However, the reason why suddenly did not seem to be so important but a way to make it stop imperative!

Tips to Car Train a Dog

From my research and gathering all kinds of helpful hints, I tried all of these thing— to no avail. In fact, I believe the screeching grew in volume!

Things I Tried to Get Her to Behave

  • Giving the dog a chew toy to allow her to take her anxiety out on the bone or toy
  • Giving her a chewy treat to keep her occupied eating that
  • Putting her in her own crate to help her feel more secure
  • Speaking to her in a calming way
  • Turning the radio on
  • Turning the radio on really loud
  • Opening windows
  • Telling her 'no' in a very authoritative voice
  • Stopping to see if she had to go to the bathroom (about 1000 times) sometimes she did but it was never a consistent indicator
  • Howling along with her (not really)
  • Resolving to never in my lifetime be in a car with her again (just kidding)!

The most interesting part here is that little Griffin did not latch onto this behavior as most malamutes would. He would just lay in his crate and be completely quiet while chewing on his toys or bone.

He is totally at home riding in a car and never is happier than when he is going with us somewhere—though so was Naya until something triggered this unsettling behavior in her.

Of particular interest is the fact that when the car is parked while we run in somewhere, it got instant quiet. I deduce from this that she is no longer moving, so I suppose she is now no longer stressed. Also of note, wherever we go outside the car, there is no stress. She is totally at ease with us and doing things in new environments or old. So, it has to be the car or the riding!

Why Don't You Just Leave the Dog Home?

Interesting point—as a matter of fact, many of our friends having ridden with the beast had asked us this very same question! I advised them it might be a good idea in the future for them to drive their own car because 'quit' just doesn't happen to be in my vocabulary.

Also, drugging a dog does not seem to be an appropriate response to fixing a problem. I just wanted to get to the bottom of it and somehow make it work for everyone, including Denaya.

I started to think back a bit, and I do remember on the wild ride from Eastern Washington to Western Washington after we had picked her up from the malamute rescue group that she had behaved a little erratically in the car. She was in the back of our Subaru, and we did not have a gate up at the time.

It became quickly evident that she was not content to be back there for any reason or any time. She proceeded to very gingerly crawl over a loaded-to-the-brim car to get to the backseat so she could be close to us. I vaguely remembered as well that there was an element of panic that set in when all the windows were rolled up.

Travel Friendly Dogs

I then started to remember my almost fatal drive from Western Washington to Central Oregon when we moved. I had been given the daunting responsibility of traveling with two malamutes in the Subaru while my friend drove behind me. The car would not accommodate a crate to fit either of the dogs so Kodi was in the back with a gate and Denaya was riding in the backseat in an open half crate. All was well until again, I somehow forgot about the windows and in the heat, rolled up all the windows in order to turn the air conditioner on.

On the top of Mt. Hood, going 55 or so, I looked in the rearview mirror to meet two malamute eyes boring through me—she was not only UP but she was coming into the front seat whether I liked it or not. How I ended up not driving into oncoming traffic while I fought the dog back with my elbow while driving one-handed on the curves is beyond me! I have never seen such panic—in her or in me! I think I had a minor stroke during that little episode and had to pull to the side of the road and burst into tears to get myself back up to the task of driving on! My girlfriend was not in much better shape! I did remember though that the dog had a problem with the windows rolled up (a little belatedly) and when I made sure she had air the rest of the trip, she was okay. I also decided right there and then—never again—no loose dogs (especially malamute) in a car that I'm in!

How I Trained My Dog to Behave in the Car

After many mutterings and grumblings to everyone I knew about this ongoing dilemma with Denaya and the howler monkey chorus that was becoming worse by the day, I happened to mention this to my mother. I was telling her how badly I felt because we were beginning to lean towards leaving her at home each and every time when we thought about what we would have to face if we put her in the car! As much as we love the dog, it was just becoming entirely too much on the nerves not to mention the ears to have to deal with this over and over.

The next time I talked to her (my mother, not Denaya), she said she had gone into the pet store herself to get food for her dog and had decided to just ask one of the sales people about it. The girl that helped her said something about it being 'normal' for malamutes to sing—whereupon my mom decided to let her know that this was way beyond 'normal' and that I was quickly getting to the end of my tether on it because I could not solve the mystery.

The gal was so sweet and led my mom to a bunch of books, etc. and they poured over these training books to see if they could also come up with a solution I could use! Now I had the whole pet force out looking for answers.

Well, my mom called me afterwards and explained where she had gone and didn't have too much to report but the gal had made one suggestion; maybe I should try it.

A Squirt Bottle of Water Did the Trick

She suggested I should take a little squirt bottle with me in the car and if she started the howling, just to give her a little squirt and see if it wouldn't curtail the behavior. She suggested citrus (lots of dog trainers use this as a deterrent for behaviors in class), but my mom and I both agreed that probably would not be a great idea spraying citrus all over the car and the dog.

Family trips are so much better when everyone is comfortable and relaxed!

Family trips are so much better when everyone is comfortable and relaxed!

Being the wonderful husband that he is, when I asked Bob if I could possibly try this new technique and could he stand it for an hour drive, he agreed to give it a go. The next shopping day we needed to head out, we loaded up the dogs and had not even made it out of the driveway before she was cranking it up a notch.

I very calmly gave her a shot from the spray bottle and said 'no' - dead silence. A few minutes later, there was another attempt at hitting a high 'C'—the squirt and a 'no'—and silence. I wanted to shout out 'you have to be kidding me—this is all it took?' but sometimes you just have to go with what you get. I can't believe it could have been that simple!

Weeks later, I can testify that it is still working! I was worried at first that it was a flash in the pan—she was just pondering this over for a while and she was going to get back at me big time later on and increase the decibels even more—but it has proven effective every time. She is not a water dog per se and not sure if it is the water or just the 'insult' of being squirted with a small stream of water but she turns it off instantly.

She in fact does not even screech or shriek anymore—she just kind of starts to mutter and grumble to herself (I think she is calling me malamute swear words under her breath). She never goes into the full vibrato of her routine. She settles down and she may pant a bit, but our rides now are quiet and tolerable. I can just imagine little Griffin in his crate thinking 'good grief—it's about time—maybe now I can get some sleep!'

I also think that part of it is the idea that the water is coming from 'somewhere' and not from me—the environment is scolding her for her behavior but I could be all wrong on that score! All I care about is the quiet and knowing I can again take her with us and not have it turn into a headache in the making.

By the way, thanks to my mom for going that extra mile and ferreting out the information! In all my readings, I had never come across something as simple as using a squirt bottle in the car. I don't think it would have done me much good on the mountain though as I was missing a third hand!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: When our dog goes for a ride in my car, why does he try to bite the cars that are going by us?

Answer: It is just a behavior that dogs do because they see something moving quickly beside them. If you want to work on trying to break it, you would need to come up with a command such as 'leave it' and then reward when the dog appropriately does not perform the behavior. Our one malamute would be fine with passing cars - unless there was a dog in the back for instance of a truck. I think he thought that the dog could bite him in the car - ridiculous but that's the only thing we could come up with - so he tried to bite the dog in the passing car or growled at it before it 'got him.' It was kind of comical. My mother's lab barked at cows and dogs as you passed them nonstop and she happened to think that it was funny, so she didn't ever work at stopping the behavior. It comes down to whether you can live with the behavior or you find it annoying - or distracting - when you are driving or riding in the car!


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 20, 2013:

Eurozulu--ha - so do my other 2 but Denaya just seems to have developed some kind of weird thing about it and thankfully she is the only one~ Malamutes are very loud anyhow but put them in a confined!

bradley brown from Harrow Middlesex on April 20, 2013:

Nice read akirchner, i must be lucky my dog just falls asleep when we go out the car.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 01, 2011:

Thanks so much Maria! Happy New Year!!!

Maria Cecilia from Philippines on January 01, 2011:

I guess any one who loves their dogs will do the same....will try to read your other hubs soon

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 31, 2010:

Maria, bless your heart - you are a true dog lover to go so far out of your way for your dog. I think it's all about stress and figuring out why they are stressed is the deal but then if you can't curb the stress, it's sometimes a matter of just 'living with it'.

I think I'm going to be chuckling all the time while Denaya is yodeling/howling thinking of it happening in a taxi! Good lord - with my Denaya, they would toss us out to the curb and I'd be walking!

Maria Cecilia from Philippines on December 30, 2010:

hahaha this is like my story, it's always my problem with my dog Peso, and it was harder in my case because I don't have a car and I need to wait for a cab or taxi with a polite driver who is willing to welcome a big dog in his car. Peso is always restless inside the car, he whined the loudest when we rode one in summer and the air condition unit was not yet turn on... He hated the hot feeling, he also bark the loudest when the taxi stopped to abide to traffic rules, but bring Peso along is unavoidable, my dog has perineal hernia and his veterinarian, a specialist is at least 1 hour drive away from our place, so imagine the agony of travelling with him...... I tried to give him treats, the one that needed to be chewed longer, but once he is finished with it, he'l start barking again.... I think it would be best to give him bigger treats? it's quite effective but I don't want to overfeed him while travelling, I am afraid he might throw up? what do you think?

This squirt thing is something new to me but I would like to give it a try... I can imagine myself and I can't help but smile when I think of trying the idea... voted up, for the tip, I've been searching long for a unique idea and I found it here...

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 19, 2009:

I swear it works because she does not know the squirt is actually coming from me/us! She just gets bewildered like "oh my god - I'd better be quiet now- why am I getting wet?" It is actually kind of funny - we had her in the car with us from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. yesterday - lots and lots of breaks and walks, etc. but it was SO quiet.....WHY I did not think of this before baffles me but it surely saved my nerves (and Bob's).....too funny - hope it works for you! Audrey

sweetie1 from India on December 19, 2009:

hi nice hub, though i dont have a dog but my firneds dog barks a lot in the car otherwise she is a very quite dog an this thing we can not understand. I would try to use ue advise on her and see how she behaves

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 08, 2009:

I HOPE you are successful - it was just so darned aggravating. I look forward to whether it works for you...we just had our adult son who is legally blind visiting with us and he was riding in the back and couldn't understand at first why I always had to have him sit behind me! He quickly figured it out....too hilarious. He said he was glad I had not figured out that technique when they were kids - I said I wished I had! Keep me posted and will think of you and squirt bottles. Beats sedatives every time!

JeannieRyan on December 08, 2009:

Great Hub! I enjoyed it from beginning to end, I could barely stand to wait for the solution LOL! I will now try this with my one year old lab and puppy dachshund and see if it works!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 07, 2009:

Too hilarious - if I pulled out a big gun on Denaya - at 85 pounds mind you - she so hates water that she would truly freak I imagine. I actually have decided to give little mini-squirt bottles when I'm trying to train them to not jump or do things when we have visitors as some folks have a harder time being 'assertive' especially with our goofy ones. Thanks as usual for stopping by! Audrey

Ronnie Sowell from South Carolina on December 07, 2009:

Enjoyed the hub. It was funny and informative. I may have to get me one of those battery operated water guns for Toby and see if I can stop his chewing!