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You know the drill. As soon as you grab your keys and head for the front door, your furry companion is there, tail wagging, ready to join you for an adventure. It doesn't matter if you're running to the corner store for milk or embarking on a cross-country road trip; your faithful friend always insists on coming along for the ride.
While you appreciate the company, you can't help but wonder what exactly it is about car rides that dogs seem to find so irresistible. Buckle up because we're about to unravel why dogs love car rides.
Is your dog crazy about riding in the car, preferably with open windows? Why do dogs love riding in the car so much? Dog behavior experts have lots of theories. Here are some that might explain why your dog loves it.
Dogs have over 300 million receptacles in their noses for receiving scent messages. In comparison, humans have 50 million. A ride in the car with the window open is an intense sensory experience for your dog. As the car moves and the scents change, your dog constantly gets updated information about the world around him.
For dogs, car rides are an array of smells. Their ultra-sensitive noses can detect thousands more odors than we can. Your pup eagerly sniffs out all the intriguing scents whizzing by the window. Everything from greasy fast food wrappers and musty park benches to aromatic trash cans and other dogs' "calling cards." It's an olfactory overload, and it's one of the many reasons why dogs love every second of it.
Your dog views the family car as an extension of the family home. This is why some dogs left in a parked car will bark like crazy when someone comes by. When in the car with you, they feel like they are in their home with their family. They will naturally want to be with you in this mobile version of the home and are just as eager to protect it in the same way they protect the house.
Some dog behaviorists think riding in a car feels like hunting for a dog. The car's forward motion, surrounded by other moving cars, makes your dog feel like part of a pack on a hunting expedition. This sensation is said to give your dog a feeling of euphoria.
For dogs, car rides tap into their primal instincts as hunters and explorers. As the scenery zips by, their senses go into overdrive, trying to take it all in. They can smell all the intriguing scents wafting in through the air vents. They can see birds, squirrels, and other potential "prey" darting about. It's an explosion of mental stimulation that sends their curiosity into hyperdrive.
Dogs are naturally curious and outgoing and love it when something new and exciting happens. A car ride is a great adventure for them, full of new sights, smells, and sounds . . . much more fun than just hanging around at home waiting for the mailman to show up.
Many dogs know that part of the fun of a car ride is the opportunity to stop for a delicious snack. Are you taking your dog out for a Sunday afternoon drive? He might just be aware that the McDonald's drive-thru or a few licks of an ice cream cone are in his future.
Don't forget a few common-sense safety rules when you take your dog out in the car. Dogs are safest in the car's rear in either a harness or crate. It's fun for your dog to sit unrestrained in the front seat and stick his head out the window, but that might not be the safest thing. It's also a good idea to keep small dogs out of your lap when driving. And, of course, never leave your dog in a hot car.
If you're planning on taking your pooch out for a car ride, why not do it in style? Check out some of our cool dog t-shirts!
Not all dogs are born loving the open road. Some pups prefer keeping four paws firmly on the ground. If your dog turns into a quivering mess at the sight of the car keys, don't despair. Even the most reluctant road tripper can become your faithful copilot with patience and positive reinforcement training.
Puppies tend to either love or hate car rides right out of the gate. For those in the latter camp, early positive experiences are essential. Take your pup on fun trips to the park, pet store, or a friend's place. Offer praise, treats, and play to help them associate riding in the car with good times. Crating or restraining an anxious puppy in the vehicle may make them feel trapped, so only do so if necessary for safety.
For dogs of any age, the following techniques can help make car travel less frightful and more delightful:
Take it slow. Start sitting in the car while it's parked, giving treats and praise. When your dog is comfortable, turn on the engine. Gradually build up to short drives around the block. Rushing the process will likely backfire.
Offer distractions. Chew toys, puzzle toys, and interactive dog apps can help take their mind off the ride. Soft music may also have a calming effect.
Don't force it. Forcing an unwilling dog into the car can destroy its trust in you and worsen its anxiety. Let your dog set the pace for getting comfortable with car travel.
Stay calm and upbeat. Dogs take cues from us, so remain relaxed and speak in an encouraging, friendly tone. Your good mood will help keep your dog's anxiety at bay.
Consider anxiety medication. For severe cases of fear or motion sickness, medication prescribed by your veterinarian may provide relief so your dog can start to form positive associations. Use medication judiciously and continue behavior training.