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Every time the Smith family took their dog Taffy for a car ride--to the vet, to the park, to the groomers--Taffy started whining in the back seat, and not just a little, a lot! Her family was not sure if it was the car she was riding in, the noise, or being contained that caused her to whine, or the other cars whizzing by that upset Taffy, but the whining was terribly annoying and distracting to the driver. They needed a solution, and fast. Fortunately, their dog trainer friends had some advice for teaching Taffy not to whine in the car, which included addressing her anxiety and training alternate behaviors in the car. Soon her car ride whining was under control. Now rides with Taffy are a lot quieter and less stressful for both Taffy and her family.
A dog that whines in the car constantly is not only annoying but can be dangerous, as the dog distracts the driver with the noise and upset he is causing. Teaching your dog to ride quietly in the car is important for everyone's safety. Getting your dog used to cars and reducing anxiety around the sights and sounds of the car can be helpful. Teaching your dog alternate car riding behaviors that are incompatible with whining, like 'be quiet' or 'sit and look at me', and rewarding and reinforcing that behavior while ignoring whining behavior will help establish a different association with car rides, and result in a peaceful road trip.
You will need treats to teach an alternate behavior such as 'be quiet', or 'sit and look at me', in the car to replace whining. Also, a crate and favorite blanket or toy may be useful for calming an anxious dog. Remember not to yell at or punish your dog, as this will only increase anxiety and noise. Check with your veterinarian to be sure that your dog is not experiencing car sickness on trips. This may be a cause of whining, and medication to alleviate motion sickness may help.
The Reduce Anxiety Method
Exercise your dog. Take your dog for a long run before putting him in the car so he is tired and has no excess energy to burn off.
Take your dog on short trips to locations he is happy to go to, like the park, a friend's, or just a short car trip, then back home so your dog does not always associate car rides with trips to the vet, kennel or groomers.
Give your dog lots of social interaction, play and training to build up his confidence. Expose your dog to lots of new situations so that he learns to be more adaptable to new situations, sights, sounds, and noises in general.
Use favorite things
When riding in the car, put your dog in a crate and provide a toy or familiar blanket that makes your dog comfortable.
Create positive association
Feed your dog in the car and give him treats and playtime near and in the car or next to the car with it running to create a positive association.
The Teach 'Be Quiet' Method
Have treats ready
Have a few treats at hand while you are driving, keep them in a container that is easily accessible while you are driving or have an assistant ready to provide them.
Command 'be quiet'
When your dog starts to whine, say “be quiet” in a firm voice. If your dog continues to whine, don't yell or punish, as this will only escalate the behavior. Ignore him, and after a few minutes repeat the 'be quiet' command.
When your dog stops whining, even for a moment, provide the treat and repeat "be quiet" to further associate the verbal command.
Repeat, asking your dog to be quiet for longer and longer periods before rewarding be quiet. Never reward or pay attention to whining.
Start replacing treats with praise and attention for being quiet.
The Alternate Behavior Method
Teach alternate behavior
Teach your dog to perform 'sit and look at me'.
Give the command in a variety of different locations and provide treats for 'sit and look at me' until well established.
Apply in car
When your dog whines in the car, give the command 'sit and look at me'. If your dog continues whining, ignore him and repeat the command a few minutes later.
When your dog performs the command, give him a treat and praise
Gradually reduce the number of treats. When your dog whines give the command followed by praise when he obeys. Give treats at the end of the car ride for being quiet and following the 'sit and look at me' command. The command distracts your dog from the whining behavior and eventually replaces it as the desired behavior when riding in the car. Periodically provide treats to reinforce.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 12/07/2017, edited: 01/08/2021