How to Keep Your Dog From Barking in the Drive-Through

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on November 12th, 2021

You and your dog are on the way to the dog park when you decide that a coffee from your favorite drive-through would be an excellent idea. But, the moment that your dog sees the coffee-delivering stranger lean out of the window, they let out a flurry of barking, growling, and lunging! Not only is this interaction stressful for everyone involved, but you might drive away feeling embarrassed, frazzled, and wondering whether the latte was really worth the hassle.

Don’t worry. You’re not doomed to a drive-through-less life when your dog is in the car. You can teach your pup how to overcome their drive-through anxieties and become a polite canine customer.

Rule out overexcitement
In this article, we’ll be talking about fear-motivated reactions, but it’s also possible that your dog barks in the drive-through out of excitement. If they’ve grown accustomed to getting a dog treat from the person in the drive-through, their anticipation could be getting the better of them. 

If you think your dog’s barking is a case of loving the drive-through too much, take a look at our article on easing overexcitement!

Understand why your dog hates the drive-through
Even though your dog’s barking habit is frustrating, it’s helpful to remember that your dog is probably responding out of fear or anxiety. To you, the drive-through attendant is delivering a tasty treat. To your dog, an unknown person has appeared out of the wall and is approaching their beloved human with unknown intentions. Your dog’s instinct is to protect you, themself, and their territory. 

The goal, then, will be to teach your dog that the drive-through isn’t as scary as they’ve built it up to be in their mind.

Keep your dog safe in the car
Safety is always a priority when your dog is in the car, especially when they’re faced with a situation that might encourage them to lunge out of the window. BreezeGuard Screens are a great tool for working through your dog’s reactivity by keeping them safely confined while also allowing them to smell and see the world outside. 

A doggy seatbelt is another good way to keep your dog in the backseat as you work through the training process. 

Put in some prep work 
Often, a dog’s energy levels are through the roof when they’re in the car which can make them more susceptible to being overwhelmed by outside triggers.

Burning off excess energy before loading up, then, is a great way to set your dog up for success. This could mean a game of fetch or tug in the backyard or a fun training session that challenges them mentally. 

Remember that mood stabilization doesn’t happen overnight, so you’ll want to make exercise and mental stimulation a part of your dog’s daily routine.

Work on counter-conditioning before taking your dog through the drive-through
Once your dog is nice and relaxed, you’ll be ready to start the process of desensitizing them in the car. In order to do this, you’ll want to stock up on some rewards, such as boiled chicken or their favorite treats, as well as a treat-filled puzzle toy. 

The goal of these sessions is to give your dog exposure to their trigger at a comfortable distance and with plenty of incentives. Over time, this will allow them to replace their fear with feelings of calmness and even positivity.

Instead of making a beeline for the nearest drive-through, choose an area where you can sit in the car with your dog, such as a parking lot. Start in an area of the parking lot where people will walk by occasionally and give your dog treats when they show signs of being relaxed. If they start to get antsy, you might offer them the puzzle toy to focus on.

Ideally, you want your dog to see their trigger without having a negative reaction. In other words, do your best to keep them under their threshold. If your dog has a barking outburst, wait for them to relax and reward them after a few moments of calmness. And, if your dog cannot relax or the outbursts are frequent, you may need to choose a more isolated area.

Keep in mind that training sessions can be short and spread out during the day or week. Consistency is more important than the length of each session, and keeping the sessions short is a good way to prevent your dog from feeling overwhelmed.

Slowly expose your dog to busier areas
Over time, your dog will internalize that people passing by the car not only are not a threat, but a sign that they will receive tasty treats. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they will be ready to visit the drive-through just yet. Instead, focus on moving your desensitization sessions to more crowded areas so that they can build up their tolerance over the course of a few weeks or longer. 

When you are ready to try the drive-through, you might consider having a friend drive so that you can pay attention to your pup. Continue to give them yummy treats and praise for calm behavior, and don’t be afraid to break out the special treats for these training sessions!

Manage your reactions
Even if you know that your doggo is just trying to protect you, it is absolutely normal to feel frustrated when your dog barks at the drive-through attendant or anyone else who approaches your car. But remember that in your dog’s heightened state, your reaction could inadvertently make things worse.

Instead of yelling at your dog or spraying them with a spray bottle—two options that could worsen their anxiety in the moment—do your best to stay calm and end the interaction as quickly as possible. Get your dog to an area where they can relax and make a note to keep working on desensitization. 

While this type of training can take time, the outcome is definitely worth it. You’ll be able to enjoy your drive-through goodies, and your dog will have a more comfortable, confident experience!  


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