News & Events

Dogs and Cars - Why Do They Love Them?

We explore why some dogs seem to love car rides as much as they do!

Recently Car and Driver magazine looked at why dogs seem to love riding in cars so much. We're all familiar with the incredible sense of joy our dogs display at the mention of "Wanna go for a ride?" But have you ever thought about the reasons why it makes them so happy?

Obviously, there's an emotional component -- our dogs love being with us and this a way to hang out with their human companions and be social. Dr. Brian Hare of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, was interviewed in the Car and Driver article: "If you give dogs a choice between being with a person or with other dogs, dogs prefer to be with people. . . . My guess is that they wouldn't necessarily enjoy riding in an autonomous car [without their person(s)]."

Most dogs also enjoy getting out and experiencing the world, and driving around is a fun way to do that. They can be mentally stimulated by all the sights and sounds along the way, even if all you do is take a short trip around the block to do some errands.

Another reason is due to a dog's highly developed olfactory sense. Dogs enjoy sticking their heads out of car windows because of the amazing array of scents they can experience in the wind rushing by. To compare, a person has 5 million olfactory receptors in their nose, while dogs can have almost 300 million. To do the math, this means a dog's sense of smell can be 10,000 to almost 100,000 times stronger than ours. (We also wish to caution that allowing your dog to keep his or her head outside a car window when the car is in motion is not a good idea and can be potentially very hazardous!) 

Of course, not all dogs love going on car rides. Some dogs find it frightening, whereas others get physically ill just as some people get car sick. If your dog is afraid of the car, you can work on a behavioral modification program to help make them find the car less scary and more rewarding. This includes slowly acclimating your dog to car rides by just sitting with him in the back seat with something he likes, such as a treat or a toy, and then gradually work up to take very short rides around the block, and increasing distance as your dog is comfortable. Some dogs that are nervous in the car do better if crated or restrained with a seat belt, or with the crate covered so they won't be bothered by all the activity outside the windows as the car moves.

For dogs that become car sick, you can talk to your veterinarian about anti-nausea medications. Some of the medications your veterinarian may recommend are over-the-counter drugs such as anti-nausea drugs or antihistamines, but in more serious cases your veterinarian may prescribe a prescription such as Cerenia


Photo credit: The Face of an Excited Passanger via photopin (license)


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