Why do most dogs love to ride in cars and why does seeing dogs in cars make us smile? Perhaps it is because, at their core, most dogs are thrill seekers. The excitement of accelerating down the road stirs up a domesticated dog’s deeply suppressed hunting instinct. Without completely understanding why, many dogs are inspired to poke their heads out the window, urging drivers to move forward and faster to catch the prey. We humans smile because we see their tongues and ears flying behind them, lips flapping, mouth wide open and we project our own emotions. We see them as happy and joyful so we smile and join in the fun. What we don’t realize is that in the doggie mind, they are on the hunt.
Alpha & A Sidekick
With the alpha pack leader, the human, at the wheel of the car, the dog is convinced he is riding shotgun in the place of honor: the pack leader’s right hand man, er, “dog”. That is why when you jingle the keys and ask, “Want to go for a ride?” the excitement begins. Not only is the dog anticipating the thrill of the chase and the hunt, but he is being bestowed the privilege of being the alpha pack leader’s preferred favorite.
Car Rides Lead To Worship
Think how this hunt instinct is reinforced if the pack leader arrives at the drive-thru window of a fast food restaurant! As the bags of burgers pass through and the smell wafts over to furry, hunting companions, how impressed they must be that the prey was brought down and served up so easily. Certainly the pack leader must then become an object of worship.
The Speed/Self-Esteem Connection
As the pack flies about in the car, does the dog understand the concept of riding in a car? As visual stimuli whizzes past, do dogs make the connection that the speed and motion is being performed by the vehicle instead of their legs? As a pedestrian walking a dog flies past, does the dog in the car think the other person and dog are also running and hunting and he is running faster, passing them by? How filled with canine confidence a dog then must become with regular car rides.
The Sniff Factor
Speed and the potential reward of a burger engages a dog’s sense of adventure which results in a love for car rides. However, there is more to the experience than a ride and a snack. With the windows down and air circulating throughout the vehicle at high rates of speed, imagine what those three million receptors are receiving that dwell within their noses! A plethora of smells. The power of the scent experience might be compared to a human being immersed in a lake of rosewater. It is a symphony of aromas. How stimulating!
Car rides also appeal to a dog’s nature of loving anything that moves, which is again linked to the hunting instinct. Flashing past people, cars, buildings, trees and other animals at even 30 mph is thirty times the thrill of watching a squirrel scamper up a tree from the bedroom window. So, for every dog whose attention is riveted to household windows, gazing at birds, squirrels and the neighbor’s cat, with deep, dark wishes to run them off his territory or maybe eat them for a snack, the visual stimulation of a car ride is doggie Nirvana.
Deepening The Bond
Despite all the fun, treats and nasal stimuli, perhaps the greatest satisfaction for a dog is that whenever they ride in a car they are with their “pack”. Dogs are intensely social creatures who strongly bond with their pack members. By including them in a car ride rather than leaving them home alone, the emotional bond between dog and human is strengthened. And, to take this loving bond further, make sure to travel safely. Dogs in cars are great but only if they are properly restrained with a travel harness or contained in a carrier. No need to ruin a perfectly good hunt with dangerous distractions. Make sure everyone arrives safely at the intended destination.