For some dogs, the highlight of their day is hearing the words, "Do you want to go for a drive?" They don't mind how far or where they go to (although they're less thrilled if they end up at the vet!). Other dogs hate the car and even become sick while the car is moving. Can science explain the differences between dogs' appreciation for car trips and why some of them like it so much?
There are no scientific studies to back it up but veterinarians from the University of California, Davis, believe that because dogs explore their world using their sense of smell, the wind associated with car travel lets them smell so much more in a shorter period of time. Keep in mind that wind and dust to the face can cause eye irritation and conjunctivitis in dogs. You can purchase a window barrier that still allows wind to blow in the window but prevents your dog sticking their head right outside.
Another explanation for a dog's love of car travel comes from evolutionary anthropologist Dr. Brian Hare at the Duke Canine Cognition Center. He thinks that the cool blast of wind to the face is an awesome sensory overload, much like us immersing ourselves in a great movie or musical performance.
However, from an evolutionary perspective, Dr. Hare feels there may be more to it. The ancestors of domestic dogs were nomadic. Wolves had to cover large areas of land to find prey. This means that dogs are wired to enjoy going places and doing so with their pack. Our pet dogs in many ways regard us as their pack, so car travel satisfies both their need for belonging and their urge to venture out in search of food.
For some dogs, a car ride makes them miserable. If they get sick or anxious in the car, they're not likely to be happy at the thought of having to climb into the vehicle. Often, young dogs grow out of this phase but others have to deal with it for their entire lives. In these cases, it may be that they've had a scary experience in a car that they just don't forget.
There are a number of ways to prevent and treat car sickness. First, do not feed your dog within four to six hours of going for a car ride. You can give them a small snack if you feel they're particularly hungry. Next, focus on your dog's comfort during the trip. Your pup is less likely to vomit if he is facing forward rather than facing sideways or backwards. Use a dog harness that acts as a seat belt to restrain your pet to limit their movement. If your dog sits low in the car and can't look out the window, you may find that allowing them to sit higher up in the seat helps. This avoids nausea from the mixed messages coming from their eyes (which tell them they are sitting still because they can't see out of the window) and their inner ear (which tells them that they are moving). Finally, dogs can be prescribed anti-nausea medication by their veterinarian if necessary.