Can anybody in the wide world of canine lovers offer my wife and I some advice?
About 18 months ago, we became foster parents to a lovely West Highland White Terrier, and she has proved to be a splendid, lovable companion. However, she has one rather irritating habit... whenever we try to take her out in our car, she barks constantly, which gets very frustrating, stressful, and even dangerous. We have her in the rear of the car, and my wife seems to think that she may be barking because she wants to get into the front with us, however this is probably illegal, not to mention dangerous too.
We have tried ignoring her, but to now avail. Even on long journeys, we have had constant barking for over three hours, which has sadly meant that we try and avoid taking her out anywhere at all now. It's a pity, because we would love nothing more than to be able to take her out 'normally' like other dog owners, for a day at the beach, or a walk in a park, or etc.
Mitzi is ten years old now, and we don't know much about her first eight years before us, but she probably didn't go out in a car maybe? Is she even too old to change this habit even?
Any advice on how to keep our bundle of noisy fluff silent whilst driving would be fantastic and much appreciated!
Keep going with the splendid magazine, and we look forward to hearing from you soon,
Paul and Beverley Thompson, by email
Vicki Milner, Canine Welfare Trainer at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, says…
Dear Paul and Beverley,
Many dogs, for a variety of reasons, do not like travelling in the car. This can manifest itself in several ways, including, refusing to get into the car, barking or whining constantly, panting, pacing or generally acting the clown. All of these symptoms are signs that your dog is actually afraid of the car or the motion of it. The cure for this problem involves changing your dog’s perception of the car from a negative one to a positive one. There are few things you can try to help overcome her barking behaviours.
Utilise food that will take a while for her to finish such as long lasting treats or food toys. At first you will want to get her used to these in the home, once she is happily entertaining herself with the food item move to the car.
These steps should be practised once or twice daily and after a while your dog will soon start to associate the car with pleasant things. It is vital that you do not rush your dog, only move on to the next step when the previous one has been perfected.
Ask her to get in, putting her in the normal position and give the food item, wait for her to settle with it and reward any quiet behaviour. At this stage you will have all the doors open. If she starts to bark ignore the behaviour wait for her to be calm then bring her out and start again once quite.
Once she is comfortably eating the chew and not barking close the doors and move into the driver’s seat but don’t take it any further.
Build up so that you are stationary but the engine is running
Start taking very short drives with her.
Continue this process with one or both of you in the car varying the length of the journey
When she gets out of the car make sure she receives something rewarding such as food, attention or a walk but this will need to be once she is quiet.
Some other things that you can try:
Remember that your dog may have built up a bad association of travelling to unpleasant places such as the vet’s etc. Some dogs find this hard to forget. So you would need to start taking your dog to perhaps a person that your dog likes or perhaps drive a short distance to the local park.
Some dogs feel safer if they can’t see out of the window. The use of a travelling cage secured in the car with a towel draped over the top, to restrict the view, can often help them feel safe.
It is not advised that dogs travel up front with you. Some dogs travel better in the boot of the car compared to the back seat if possible try changing positions in the car as this can help to reduce the behaviours that have already developed
An oval dog bed with a soft blanket in it can sometimes help dogs to feel safer. It can reduce the likelihood of them being thrown off balance whilst the car is in motion. The blanket should be full of comforting and familiar smells.
Hopefully this should all help to reduce her vocal tendencies in the car and ensure that you all have more pleasant car journeys in the future.