Why Dogs bark at cars

rhodesian ridgebackBarking at cars driving by seems to be a favorite pastime of Canis familiaris, otherwise known as your pet dog.




Many dogs can detect an approaching car long before it appears and even discriminate between the mail carrier’s truck and the family sedan. Why are dogs motivated to raise such a ruckus whenever a vehicle comes near?


Here are five behavioral characteristics that may bring out the bark in your dog at the mere suggestion of an approaching vehicle.

Territorial Behavior

Dogs are territorial. They often guard their food, their toys, and their bed. Your house and yard are an extension of your dog’s territory. If your dog hears a car approaching its territory, it will likely bark to warn the car off. As the car passes by, the dog's barking is reinforced. This leads to more barking since your dog was successful in chasing off the car with its barking. One remedy to this situation is to remind your dog that you are the pack leader and the territory is your s to defend.

Protective Instinct

Your dog is part of a pack—your family. Pack members protect each other, so if there is a non-pack member coming near you, your dog is likely to try to protect you from it. The first reaction dogs generally have is to bark. Vocalizing sends a strong signal to the intruder that your dog is willing to protect the pack. This protective instinct is not always confined to your home and yard but moves around with you, for example, when you are on a walk.


Your dog’s instinct is to be a cooperative pack member. When danger approaches, your dog may bark at the car, then look at you to make sure you are aware of the unusual sound. If you do not respond in some way, your dog will continue to bark to alert you to the situation. Allow your dog to alert you, but train it to bark three times and then stop at your signal. Pair a command like “enough” with a treat after a few barks and then turn away. Most dogs will soon understand that a reward comes with a short barking session.


Often dogs bark at anything and everything because they are bored. When a dog is not mentally challenged or physically worn out, it often reacts to any unusual stimulus by barking. Cars are good stimuli for boredom-reducing behaviors. They growl, squeak, rattle, and “run away,” just like prey in the wild. Mitigate this problem by keeping your dog well-exercised with daily walking, playing fetch, or using a treadmill. Challenge your pet’s mind with puzzle treat toys and hide-and-seek games.


Some dogs are sensitive to unusual noises or smells. One dog might bark at a clattering pick-up truck but ignore a quiet coupe. Another dog might bark at vehicles running on diesel fuel but ignore those using gasoline. Still others may associate cars with “going for a ride” and bark out of sheer excitement.
If you can determine what motivates your dog to bark at cars, you might be able to train him out of the behavior. However, it is very difficult to train away an instinctual behavior like barking. Instead, you might try teaching a different behavior, like sitting or running up to you to touch your hand to let you know a car is nearby.