Why Do Dogs Love/Hate Cars?
For some it’s a daily thrill. For others it’s terror incarnate. What makes some dogs love car rides while others are terrified of them?
What’s the human version of heaven on Earth?
We humans tend to dream big when it comes to the ultimate experience. From hot fudge sundaes and rock star lifestyles, to a retirement villa on a beautiful remote Hawaiian beach that offers the perfect surf. Homo sapiens always love to have it all.
Lucky for us, dogs aren’t nearly as picky as us humans. Our yummy leftovers and a car ride around town will do just fine for nearly any canine.
Let’s face it. It’s a dog thang! But not quite for all dogs.
Some dogs see that mysterious car ride as a pathway to a pleasurable paradise. While others look at it as a mobile prison that can push them into a thousand uncontrollable directions.
Our two dogs, Molly (in white) and Neo (in scrunchy brown), have no trouble expressing these extremes of love and hate.
Our goldendoodle, Molly, who was recently rescued from a kill shelter, absolutely revels in a car ride. Her shaggy white head will bask just outside our cracked car window, and she will embrace the changing winds and smells like a surfer absorbing the drifts and mists of a brand new killer wave.
Molly’s joy is a bit of a mystery because, well, we can’t quite understand her “woof”-enese language. So we decided to find the next best thing. Tina McCain is an animal behaviorist who has run a successful dog training school -- MerryMac Dog Training & Nutrition -- for nearly 30 years.
Why do some dogs love cars? It comes down to three instinctive reasons!
The Outside: “Dogs are naturally outdoor animals. But unfortunately they end up spending a lot of their time inside where the smells are familiar and the scenery never changes. A car ride gives a dog a new experience filled with new sights and smells. You can’t help but sense their enjoyment of the new adventure of a car ride”
The Hunt: “Dogs in the wild travel in packs. When everyone they know and love is in the car, the drive may be a wonderful instinctual flashback to what their ancestors experienced in the past. In a car everyone stays together and explores together. Except if someone gets too close to the car, which can be a cardinal sin in the eyes of many a canine.”
The Anticipation: “Some dogs associate the ride with a pleasant experience they already had in the recent past. Their treasured play friends. A brilliant time for running around and having fun with their master along with other new and old faces. When doggies have a chance to go on a car ride, it gives them a golden opportunity to anticipate meeting a wonderful loved one in much the same way we humans usually love to travel and see the good people in our lives.”
We know one creature who wouldn’t agree with Mrs. McCain though -- meet Neo the Dog.
Our chuggle (half chihuahua / half pug) Neo the Dog, will get a severe case of “stinky butt” and shake uncontrollably on the mere possibility of jumping in the car.
Why the stink? For him we believe it comes from the fact that he was cooped up in a cage that was inside a car during his younger dog days. Neo may have been stuck with other not so friendly dogs, or shucked around like a bag of goods with no control over what happens next.
Tina McCain has experienced that very issue in her work with dogs of all sizes and temperaments,
“What I recommend if a dog is scared of a car ride, is to start off by turning it into a positive association. I’ll do a desensitization program where you put them in a car, give them a treat, and get them out of the car. I would do that for a week."
The next week I’ll get them in the car and drive to the end of the driveway, give them a treat, and get them back out. Then we start slowly week by week. Drive around the block. Drive to a place nearby. If there’s a negative along the way, like going to a vet, I make sure to give them a treat at the vet, again, to help overcome any negative association.
There may come a time when our canines will be able to talk to us just like Astro from the Jetsons. I look forward to that day as does Tina, but will it happen anytime soon? Probably not. So for right now, I think I’ll tell our Molly “Car! Car!”, and I’ll give Neo a new bone, or a dog biscuit, which will hopefully wean him towards family loving car rides.
We all deserve our own unique version of happiness.