Q&A: Why does my dog freak out when someone leaves the car?

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Q: I have a 2.5-year-old Pomeranian-Beagle that we rescued through Petfinder when he was a puppy. He loves to go on car rides, but when anyone leaves the car he whines, yips and barks. It’s so bad, we don’t like to take him with us anymore. — Virginia G.

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Andrea Arden, CPDT at Andrea Arden Dog Training in New York City, writes: I just took a trip with a friend and her dog has a similar issue. It is quite alarming to hear a dog scream at any time, but especially when you sit with him in a small car as his “mom” heads into a gas station for a potty break!

This behavior indicates high stress and arousal due to insecurity about being left. Just like a coach sets up lots of practice sessions prior to the big game, you need to schedule time for practice sessions with your dog prior to leaving him in the car with a friend while you travel. (Of course, never leave your dog unsupervised in a car at any time of year.)


Here’s how to use these practice sessions to get your dog used to your being away from him:

  • Inside your home, tether him to a stable object a foot or two away from you for several minutes. Gradually increase your distance from him over the course of a week or so until you can leave the room without concern.
  • Once you can be in a separate room, try practicing this in your car while it is parked in your driveway. Secure your dog in the back seat and practice opening and closing your door without getting out until he is okay with that action; then practice getting out and gradually increasing your distance from the car.

It may take many sessions, but remember, this is not like teaching your dog to sit on cue — this is about changing an emotional response to a stimulus, and that takes more time and effort. But it’s surely worth it so your dog will get to share in your travel fun!

Learn more about Petfinder’s Train FurKeeps program.

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