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The Surprising And Scientific Reasons Why Dogs Absolutely Love Riding In Cars

by Eric Pfeiffer

July 8, 2016
Image via CC: (Credit: Robert Couse Baker)

Anyone who has ever had a pet dog knows the power phrases like, “Go for a ride,” or, “Want to go outside?” can have on our canine friends. But it turns out there’s some interesting science behind why dogs of almost any breed, age or size love to go cruising with their human pals.

Mother Nature Network has compiled a compelling round-up of some of the best scientific and psychological takes. For example, University of British Columbia dog behaviorist and professor of psychology Stanley Coren told the Globe and Mail in a past interview that part of the appeal of riding in a car might be the enormous blast of smells and sounds a dog receives when sticking their noses out a car window. "If you crack the window, a dog gets a kaleidoscopic view of the world through his nose, as the scents are changing all the time,” he said. “We [humans] are visual animals … A dog lives through his nose."

“I’m not sure they’re getting a high, per se,” University of California veterinarian Dr. Melissa Bain said in a separate interview with Car and Driver. “But they are getting a lot of input at higher speed.”

Image via CC (Credit: localpups)

Car rides have long held an almost tribal role for humans, particularly young males. There’s an almost predictable right of passage through generational landmarks: the cool sports car driven by countless young men, followed by a more sensible high-mileage sedan, the family minivan and eventually the mid-life crisis sports car that brings it all full circle. And it turns out dogs may share some of those tribal associations as well, with car rides simulating the sensations of being part of a pack hunt.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, you might be a skeptic saying, “Um, maybe dogs just like being with their owners.” And it turns out, you might be right. But even in that situation, there’s some science behind it. Duke University’s Brian Hare said that along with their already loyal instincts, dogs often associated a trip outside with a “reward” or some other positive outcome. Still, there’s no denying that the allure of heading out with their human companions is the ultimate treat. “If you give dogs a choice between being with a person or with other dogs, dogs prefer to be with people,” he said.

However, don’t just assume your dog loves a good car ride. UC Davis’ Melisssa Bain told Car and Driver that some dogs get nauseous in cars and that owners should consider protective gear such as safety belts and “doggles” if you’re goign to be spending a lot of time on the road. 

Image via CC (Credit: K. Stuedel)

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The Surprising And Scientific Reasons Why Dogs Absolutely Love Riding In Cars