Can Dogs Recognize Cars?

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Introduction

Any loving pet owner would tell you their dog has a sixth sense about them, especially when it comes to when their owner gets home from work, shopping, or a vacation. How is that your dog just seems to know you are about to walk through the front door and is patiently waiting in anticipation? No, your dog hasn't spent their entire day waiting by the front door, so what gives? 

Dogs rely on what we call associative learning, which means they learn by experience or association. This means, for example, that over time they come to learn the sound of your car and know that that specific sound means you are about to walk through the front door. While they can't tell the make, model, and year of your car, they know when they hear it, their loving best friend is about to come home.

Signs a Dog Recognizes Your Car

Thanks to a dog's associative learning capabilities, they can learn to recognize the sound of their owner's car and prepare themselves for your arrival. This means, for many dogs, running to the door, ready to greet you with wet kisses and belly rubs. The sound of your car is actually a trigger for your pawsome buddy, setting them into their ritual welcoming routine. 

Many people are surprised by the ability of their dog to learn to recognize their car; it is impressive, to say the least. However, dogs are very sensitive to their environment and pick up on cues over time. In a nutshell, they are able to put "two and two" together and know that when they hear the rumble of your engine, it means the happiest moment of their day is about to take place. 

If you work a 9-to-5 or some other set schedule on a daily basis, your dog will also learn to tell time, in a sense. Sure, they may not know that you get home at 5:30 every day, but they do know that you get home around the same time of day. It's true that many dogs may sit in the window all day, waiting for their person to pull up, but in most cases, dogs are simply using their associative learning abilities to determine that the sound of your car and the time of day means you are finally home. 

Every dog is different, but your pooch may start whining, running in circles, jumping up, barking, wagging their tail, and even pawing at the door when they hear the sound of your car. And once you walk through the front door, they get even crazier! Pay attention to your dog's reactions and actions over time, you will be amazed at how much you can learn about them and just how intuitive they really are. 

Body Language

Here are some signs that indicate your dog may recognize your car:
  • Barking
  • Head tilting
  • Whining
  • Listening
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

These are other signs your dog recognizes your car:
  • Sitting by the window
  • Waiting in anticipation by the door
  • Acting restless

History of Dogs Recognizing Cars

While there aren't a lot of studies out there right now regarding a dog's ability to recognize your car, chances are this behavior has been going on for as long as cars have been around. It is common knowledge that dogs rely on their sense of hearing and smell when it comes to picking up on the behaviors of their masters and other dogs, so it should come as no surprise that this plays a huge role in them learning what may indicate you are pulling into the driveway.

Science Behind Dogs Recognizing Your Car

Science and research indicate that humans and dogs have co-evolved for more than 32,000 years, which means we have been learning one another's habits for a very, very long time. Because dogs learn by association and are creatures of habit, it only makes sense that they come to know what your car sounds like. 

Most experts agree that dogs can sense when we are coming home before we even pull into the driveway, but there is some debate as to how they know this. Can they really hear your car from that far away? Are they secret time tellers? 

We simply don't know, but what we do know is that they are very in-tune creatures that can pick up on human cues. They can even sense things that we don't realize we are doing. We know that dogs have excellent hearing and they use it for everything, so it only makes sense that the sound of your car sticks with them. 

Training Your Dog to Recognize Your Car

Chances are you can't really train your dog to learn the make and model of your car, but they will come to associate its sound with you and your behaviors. Regardless of how fancy your car is, your dog will likely learn over time that the specific sound it makes means you are leaving - sometimes with them, sometimes without - and that you are about to get home.

If you want to try and teach your dog to understand that the sound of your car means you are home, the first place to start is by adopting a routine. As we've discussed, dogs learn by association and love routine.

Whether you're training them just for fun or for a higher purpose, begin by leaving and coming at the same times. Familiarize them with your car and try to stick to the same routine for awhile. They are smarter than you may think and will quickly realize what an important role your car has in your - and their - daily life.  

How to React When Your Dog Recognizes Your Car:

  • Greet them with love.
  • Reward their good behavior.
  • Teach them basic commands.
  • Train them to wait patiently by the door for you.