Car Related Aggression

Have you ever walked by a car or truck with a dog in it and seen the dog go crazy…you know, the dog who lunges and barks and acts like he will eat you alive if you touch his car.

Running from side to side as the suspected human intruder walks by his car, the dog may snap at windows if they are closed and in a determined frenzy, jump from the front seat to the back to follow the person.

An experienced trainer wrote in to ask whether or not we thought this was a dog with an aggression problem.  If you saw this behavior in the parking lot and the dog then came inside with his owner to take your CGC test, would you pass the dog?

What do you think about this behavior?

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AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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13 Responses to Car Related Aggression

  1. Wow, that’s really a good question. I likely would be hesitant to pass the dog but another way of looking at it is any dog that comes to you for the test could have other aggression related issues that would never show up in this type of test. The dog may have aggressive tenancies while in his/her yard and nowhere else. I look forward to reading other answers on this subject.

  2. Kristin S. says:

    I agree with Shelley, there are all kinds of aggressive tenancies that could only be exhibited in the home, or be situation specific that a CGC Evaluator would never pick up on. . . resource guarding food bowl/rawhide being prime examples; and an extreme resource (food) guarder could potentially pass a CGC test especially if they have a diligent & experienced handler. That being said, I would have a hard time passing a dog exhibiting that kind of behavior in the car arriving or in the parking lot (ESPECIALLY if the owner is present!) considering one of the things I am supposed to be evaluating is “being approached by a stranger”. I personally feel that if your dog becomes over-stimulated in the car but you want a CGC certificate there are preventative things you can do to prevent/control the behavior: utilizing a crate, utilizing a calming cap as you are taking your dog out in public and representing dog owners everywhere. I also look forward to hearing others point of view on this. . .

  3. trisha says:

    My dog is not quite as aggressive in the car as the one described and is truly non-aggressive in most situations. In fact, if someone approaches her in the car while i am OUT of the vehicle, she would not care at all. Similarly, if someone approaches in a public area, that is not the same as when we are in the vehicle either arriving or leaving home. It is an almost automatic response for her to become alert/aggressive as soon as we pull up to the house. I have always assumed this was a territorial issue and have tired a variety of ways to break her of this habit. We now have a bit of a discussion about her need to protect me (or the car) upon arrival and she gets lots of praises if she can “let it go” and relax rather than barking to announce our arrival. This happens virtually EVERY day (though some days are better than others) and she is almost five. I would hate to see her penalized for this circumstantial act since, from experience, i know she would not hurt anyone.

  4. kim stimpson says:

    My thought is you teach your dogs good manners. Lying quietly in the car waiting for you is good manners. We live in a society where we drive and park in parking lots almost every day. And people get in and out of their cars all around us almost every time. While your dog waits for you the car, there is no need for him/her to protest every passerby. If a situation arises that you need for your dog to protect you, let them know. They should look to you for direction, not feel threatened by all humans walking past to do a little shopping. I don’t believe humans train their dogs to protect their cars, they just allow that aggressive behavior.

  5. I thought this was an interesting question and thanks so much for all of the thoughtful replies so far. At a minimum if you saw this, (if you were the evaluator) you should talk to the owner about the problem. If the windows need to be open for the dog to get air, or a truck bed is open, this could be a liability. I wouldn’t want to leave a dog in a car if I knew it did that.

  6. I had a dog, although he never tested for CGC (because it was before I became involved), would have easily passed the test at any stage of his life. He lived to 11 yrs. old but somewhere around 5-6 became car “aggressive”, which worsened as he aged, despite my numerous different approaches to correct it. Even though he was car agressive, he never showed any aggressive tendencies “face to face” with people. In fact one time at the shopping center, he had an “episode” while I was standing right there. An obvious dog person approached & petted him through the window after allowing my dog to sniff his hand. Of course, I warned the person that my dog was frazzled but he went to my dog before I could stop him. My dog acted liked a total gentleman. Therefore, I believe in my case it was a territorial instinct as is the case with many dogs. However, for some dogs, it may involve deeper issues. Most dogs don’t meet strangers (of 2 or 4 legged variety) in the car, so I don’t see that as having major importance, in & of itself.If it occurs in the house, then of course that is an entirely different & unacceptable situation.

  7. Jennifer says:

    How do you know the dog isn’t just being a dog- protecting the car in the same manner in which he might respond were he at home and the doorbell rang. The dog obviously views the vehicle as an extension of the home and yard. Similarly, consider dogs who routinely go camping with their families- the campsite (tent, RV, etc…) could also be viewed as an extension of the home, and the dog would naturally alert to any intruders or unfamiliar persons approaching, including other campers (with or without their dogs) passing by. It’s up to the human family members to acknowledge the dog’s behavior, quiet or correct it, and have the dog calm down in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t think the above question is germane to the CGC program. This isn’t a case of accepting petting or brushing from a friendly stranger or of allowing a person to greet the human the dog is with, it isn’t about behaving politely in public. I’d rather the CGC instructor address the issue of the dog being left in the car in the first place, instead of the dog’s behavior while in the car.

  8. Jennifer says:

    More specifically, how do you go about determining what is (and isn’t) “aggression”, since the term is so freely used these days? Yes, we all want our dogs to have good manners and we work hard to ensure this, but we all also have our own personal lines drawn as to how much barking/alerting is sufficient and allowed, as well as where.

  9. Ashley Hall says:

    While the issue of the dog reacting that way in the car should be addressed, I think it does relate to what the CGC represents. The dog is in public, although he or she is in a car, and should be better behaved when taken somewhere. I think it is similar to a dog protecting his property, such as a dog protecting a fence line. But in either case, if the dog feels pressured enough and harms a person, it’s a serious issue. If the dog is agitated enough to the point that it hops from back and forth between seats and continues to react to a person, what is to stop the dog from reaching outside of the car with its snout to bite that person? The CGC test may only give us a glimpse of how a dog acts in public, so if a dog shows up to take the test and behaves like that, I would think that the dog needs more training before being considered a good canine in public.

  10. Jennifer says:

    It could be good criteria to be included in a skill set for an advanced or Level leg of a CGC certification, should the AKC ever decide to build on what they already have and offer people and their dogs an opportunity to collect more titles under the term CGC, rather like those used in obedience, rally, agility, etc…

    I’m sure most police dogs could pass the CGC without batting an eye, but K-9 units still paint “police dog inside, please stay back” on their vehicles. Sure, some of that is for legal and liability purposes but still…

  11. Jennifer says:

    Or perhaps now that the CGC program is more established and more recognizable, it’s time for the criteria to undergo a revision? Some of the skills that are similar to each other could be combined in order to make room for the addition of new ones? Many people do travel with their dogs, and polite behavior in a vehicle isn’t the only concern. Travel anxiety and motion sickness are also common. Maybe a section of skills on “vehicle socialization” overall would be a good thing? All issues point to a dog acquiring the ability to remain calm and relaxed while in a car.

  12. Jennifer says:

    Also, isn’t the trainer’s job to pass/fail the dog based on the dog’s ability to meet the requirements of the criteria on the exam? Is it ethical to fail the dog for behavior not related to (or displayed during) demonstration of skills the dog has been learning and for which he/she is specifically being tested?

  13. Stevie says:

    I would be surprised if a dog that distressed came in and was able to pass every aspect of the test seeing as how they would be starting it with that adrenaline in their system from being so amped up. I would be aware, and keep an eye on how the dog was feeling once they came in for the test, as well as address it with the handler, but ultimately that is not something currently included in the CGC exam. If they showed no signs of distress and were a clean pass I’d pass them

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