Why Do Dogs Whine and Cry in the Car?

Help! How to do I train my dog to not whine in the car?
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2020, Updated October 2020
dog whining in car
The Bark’s advice columnist Karen B. London answers readers’ questions about canine behavior. Got a question? Email askbark@thebark.com

Dear Bark: The local dog park is a short drive from my house, and I usually take my dog there before doing other errands. She sits right behind me in the the back seat, and within a few minutes of leaving the house, she starts whining and pacing in anticipation, which is not only distracting, it’s also irksome. Can a dog be trained out of these behaviors? What’s the best way to deal with back-seat dog whining on the way to the dog park?

It’s wonderful that you’re taking your dog somewhere that makes her so happy! Of course, her excitement about going has its downside, which is her behavior in the car on the drive there. But there are ways to help make the ride better.

Why Do Dogs Whine in the Car?

The root of the problem is that she knows where you’re going and cannot contain her enthusiasm. The solution? Make it harder for her to figure out the destination and easier for her to contain her exuberance in the car. To do that, it’s important to become less predictable—to reduce her expectation that a ride in the car means she’s going to the dog park.

Take the dog with you regularly (weather permitting) so that going out in the car isn’t so closely linked with a visit to her playground. Add to the unpredictability by varying the order of your stops; for example, errands might come before or after the dog park, or both. Sometimes a trip may be just errands, and sometimes just a joy ride without any stops at all. She may still become revved up when you get close to the dog park on the days you actually go there, but hopefully, it will be for a couple of minutes rather than the entire ride.

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More ways to change it up: to make arrivals at the dog park less exciting, park at a distance whenever you can and walk there from your parking spot. Sometimes, park in that spot and go for a walk without visiting the dog park. That way, in a sense, you’re never actually driving to the dog park—you’re driving to a parking spot, which may mean a walk or may mean some off-leash fun. If your dog is never sure when she’s in the car that you’re going to the dog park, the irksome behavior associated with her anticipation will be less likely to happen. (To be honest, your walk may be filled with her exuberance, but that is not as problematic as excited behavior in the car.)

No matter where you’re headed, help her be her best self in the car by giving her something that keeps her occupied so she has an option beyond looking out the window. Whether it’s a stuffed Kong, a food puzzle or a chew toy, if she likes it and it holds her attention, she’s less likely to exhibit the distracting whining and pacing.

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life