Watching a dog enjoy a car ride is a true delight. His head is up, the wind is blowing through his fur, and there is an unmistakable look of pure happiness on his face. You can’t help but smile, because you know that feeling of unadulterated bliss.
But what is it about car rides that fills dogs with so much joy? In all honesty we’ll probably never know for sure, because our furry friends can’t tell us. But we’ve sniffed out the mystery a little bit, and found five plausible reasons for this curious doggie behavior.
1. Dogs love a good adventure
Not every dog is adventurous, of course – some dogs are timid and prefer the comfort of things they know. However, most dogs are very curious and really enjoy any kind of adventure, whether it’s visiting a new dog park, greeting the new neighbors, or exploring that interesting-smelling crawlspace under the house. A car ride is the best kind of adventure -- it’s novel, unpredictable, lasts much longer than the average walk, and offers all kinds of opportunities for new discoveries. Where, oh where are we going today?
2. There’s a symphony of smells in the air
Dogs go crazy over smells – whether good, really bad, or in between -- and for good reason. According to Nova, scientists have determined that dogs have about 3,000,000 olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to our paltry 30,000, and their sense of smell is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than ours. What does this mean, exactly in terms of the difference in our abilities? Well, as dog-cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz explains in her book Inside of a Dog, while we might be able to sniff out a teaspoon of sugar in our coffee, our pooches can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water.
So, when you crack open the car window, you’re cracking open a whole fascinating, unseen world that promises infinite olfactory discoveries for your pooch. If he’s happy sniffing out the mundane and familiar scents in your backyard, imagine how thrilling it is for him to experience thousands of new scents every minute!
3. There’s something new to see everywhere
If your dog has ever gone manic at the sight of a squirrel or sounded off the second he spotted the mail truck, you have some idea of how easily she’s stimulated by visual cues. On a car ride there are endless new things to see every minute, from birds, to pedestrians, to other doggie passengers. Unlike the human driving the car, dogs have the luxury of gazing out the window and taking in all the sights throughout the whole trip.
4. Dogs are always happy to be close to you and their “pack”
On a car ride, the whole pack stays together. No one is running off to another room or disappearing out the door. Your dog can see you, smell you, and be close to you, while still getting all kinds of sensory stimulation he wouldn’t at home. In a sense, you are a pack on an adventure together -- just the way you would be in the wild.
5. Car rides triggers a dog’s hunting instincts
Kevin Behan of Natural Dog Training believes that dogs love car rides because they produce some of the same euphoric sensations as hunting. He theorizes that the car’s motion causes synchronized movements among the “pack members” – they move and sway together along with bumps, twists and turns of the road. These synchronized movements trigger a sensation in dogs similar that of moving in sync with their pack as they hunt. Also, to your dog, who doesn’t know much about the physics of motion, every object outside the car appears to be moving quickly, which can trigger her instinct to give chase.
Of course, safety is priority number one during car travel. Your dog’s head and paws should stay inside the car at all times, and he should be contained or restrained in a way that won’t cause a distraction for you as you drive. This doesn't mean your favorite four-legged friend will enjoy car rides with you any less -- he can still see the sights, sniff the wind and feel the excitement of a new adventure. It just means you'll enjoy the trip even more knowing that he is both deliriously happy and safe.