Barbaric Yawp
June 4, 2011 8:58 PM   Subscribe

We have a reactive, defensive dog that can be barky during car rides. She is quieter if she's in a crated in the back of the van with a blanket over it. But my husband has been allowing her freedom in the car, claiming she only barks a few times each trip. I think that a few times is too many times, and that she should continue to be crated during trips unless she gets to the point where she stops reacting to stuff outside the car.

I discovered a couple months ago that Miss Barks-a-Lot is much, much better if she's crated in the back of the van with a blanket over the crate completely blocking her view of the outside world. She went from being a royal pain-in-the-ass in the car to being a good passenger. She is crated at night at home, and cheerfully hops in her crate at the start of a trip.

Enter husband, who has recently started taking her on trips uncrated again, arguing that she only barks "sometimes" and that if she's quiet, he can reward her for being quiet and hopefully reinforce that behavior. His other argument is that he is using freedom in the car as a reward for being quiet, and that if she gets too barky he would put her back in the crate. Except, of course, he claims she only barks occasionally, and so in these experimental free rides, he's never actually put her back in the crate after she starts barking at stuff.

My concern is that allowing her to be roaming around the car and barking at stuff, even if it's only "sometimes" or "not too often" or whatever metric it is that my husband is using, is just serving to reinforce her barky/reactive/defensive response. I think my husband thinks that she has more "fun" being out of the crate, but from my perspective, she's just stressed out and on high alert the whole time--even when she's not barking.

I should add that she is reactive/defensive/barky in many situations and not just the car, it's been a difficult problem to deal with and we've made only limited progress in situations where we can't shut off the stimulus of things that set her off. My husband is honestly not good at all at getting the dog to stop barking when she gets barky at home and he's not busy doing things know, driving a I can't imagine that he's effective at getting her to stop barking when she's roaming about the car.
posted by SomeTrickPony to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
You could phrase it like: "I'm concerned for your safety- I would hate it if you had an accident because of the dog barking"
He might say "pshaww! I'm a safe driver, I wouldn't have an accident! "
You say- "yeah I know, but I worry and it's a weird irrational thing and I'd feel much better if I knew the dog was in the crate. "

The dog won't be "cured" by the crate and stop being all defensive and barky. You need to let her know that *scary thing* is OK- have her on leash, under control, introduce her slowly to *scary thing* and reward non-barky behaviour, repeat. (There are other good threads on about this, try the barky dog in dog park type threads)

I am a believer that the human needs to be the leader of the pack, because the dog is hugely stressed when they feel the need to be the alpha (to fill the leadership void) and I can't seem to get through to my pack that thing might be dangerous, bark bark bark!

This is a you-husband issue, not a directly a dog issue.

Do you want us to provide you with evidence so you can 'win' the argument? What needs to happen is that you both need to sit down and talk calmly about this. Work out a compromise, a middle ground, and a plan of action for calming down your dog.
posted by titanium_geek at 9:14 PM on June 4, 2011

Also, tagging onto what titanium_geek is saying, you could mention that if the dog is uncrated and there is an accident, even a small one, she could go flying and be seriously injured -- and develop a more serious fear of car travel, too.

If your husband wants to train the dog to be better at riding in the car, he needs to devote time to special training activities. These could include being in a stationary car with the dog, while whatever freaks her out mildly is gradually introduced outside the car. This way, your husband is available to immediately reinforce good behavior, with actual treats instead of lack of crating (which current mechanism is essentially "nothing" - his scheme only allows negative reinforcement, really). and/or crate her if necessary. Even if he were super-attentive while driving, he'd have to find somewhere to pull over, stop the car, climb around or exit and re-enter the car to access the crate, etc. -- this is not how successful reinforcement is done.

So, how do you convince him of this? I'd say sign him up, with your dog, for a class, or maybe (if he'd be motivated to read and take it seriously) get a really great book. Or hire an expert behaviorist. All of this can be helped by positively reinforcing him by painting a rosily awesome picture of how wonderful life can be with a properly-behaving dog, by encouraging him to think of how much happier the dog will be, and by being tastefully supportive of his training efforts.

Good luck!
posted by amtho at 11:45 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

She should probably be crated in the car for her own safety--unless you want to get a doggie seatbelt or something, in which case amtho's advice is good.
posted by Neofelis at 12:21 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Doh! totally forgot the dog-as-missile thing. My brain just filled in what happens with our dog, which is being in a doggie harness clipped into a seat belt receiver
posted by titanium_geek at 1:17 AM on June 5, 2011

Just let him know that when he's in an accident, and the dog is seriously injured and/or dies because it wasn't properly tethered or will never, ever forgive him.

("Hey, let's have an animal run around inside the car and bark at me while I'm trying to drive! What a great idea!")
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:04 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dogs go missing after car accidents all the time. Why risk that at all no matter what his barking disposition is?
posted by chiababe at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Enter husband, who has recently started taking her on trips uncrated again, arguing that she only barks "sometimes" and that if she's quiet, he can reward her for being quiet and hopefully reinforce that behavior. His other argument is that he is using freedom in the car as a reward for being quiet, and that if she gets too barky he would put her back in the crate.

What's he going to do, give her treats while he drives? Pull over on the highway and put her back in the crate if she barks? Neither of these seem like a safe option. If she starts to bark, and he pulls over to put her in the crate, by the time he does that she won't be able to make the connection. If you're going to punish or reward a dog you have to do it RIGHT AT THE TIME OF THE BEHAVIOR or there is no point in doing it. Tell him that he is reinforcing bad habits by allowing her to run free (in addition to the safety issues described above).
posted by desjardins at 7:24 AM on June 5, 2011

A dog should not be unrestrained in a car. Period. It's dangerous for the humans in the car and dangerous for the dog. There is no training that is more important than basic car safety.
posted by biscotti at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, a crate should never be used as 'punishment' for anything. You want to ensure your dog still happily jumps into the crate when needed.
posted by whalebreath at 9:26 AM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

So currently the dog is crated when you are in the car... but not crated when it's just your husband, right?

Sounds to me like a perfect compromise. I'd let this go. It seems terribly controlling otherwise.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:50 PM on June 5, 2011

I just wanted to reiterate that everyone, including the dog, is safer if she's crated. She could cause an accident, be injured in an accident, injure somebody else in an accident, or even prevent first responders from getting to you after an accident (I've seen it happen).

Also, she barks when she's unrestrained because she's agitated. She's quiet in the crate because she's calm. All things being equal, I prefer my dogs to be safe and calm over free, dangerous, and agitated.
posted by MrZero at 7:19 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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