Do Dogs Find Electric Cars more Relaxing? CarGurus Investigates

by Alex Robbins

Have you ever wondered just how comfortable your dog is when travelling in the car? You might be lucky enough to own a pooch who settles immediately into a contented snooze for the majority of a long journey. On the other hand, you might be one of those unfortunate dog owners who has to deal with travel anxiety, nausea, or one of the many other issues that make car travel uncomfortable for our canine friends.

No matter which category you fall into, though, like any dog owner, you’ll probably jump at the chance to make travel more comfortable and less stressful for your pet. But what if switching to an electric car can do just that?

Do Dogs Find Electric Cars More Relaxing?

It’s an option you might not have thought of – but it holds some merit. Electric cars, with their lack of engine noise and gear changes, often feel smoother to us humans, so logically, they should for our dogs, too. So what if travelling in an electric car is more relaxing for dogs?

We decided to put this theory to the test, with the help of Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln, and his team at the university’s Animal Behaviour Clinic.

Professor Mills (pictured below with Dolly the Springer Spaniel) took on the challenge set by CarGurus of designing an experiment that could prove whether or not dogs seem to prefer electric cars. “Obviously, there are more and more electric cars around,” he says. “And a lot of dogs do struggle with travel. We recognise that there are many reasons why dogs struggle with travelling – nausea, overexcitement, and so on. Engine noise may be a factor in this, and given the growth of electric cars, nobody’s actually looked at this yet. It was a good opportunity to get a firmer footing on whether there is in fact a difference between the two.”

Dogs and EVs study spaniel with professor Daniel Mills in Genesis GV70 tight

Cars and Methodology

The experiment Professor Mills came up with compares dogs’ reactions when driving in an electric car to those when driving in an equivalent diesel car. We’ve brought along two of each: two Genesis GV70s, one diesel and one electric, and a pair of Volkswagens – an electric ID.3, and a diesel T-Roc (there’s no such thing as a diesel ID.3).

The dogs were to be fitted with heart rate monitors, and driven on a course around the University grounds and the streets of Lincoln just outside. Observers were to sit in the backs of each car, and note behaviours that signify stress – lip licking, salivating, whining, and suchlike – and heart rates would be compared before and after the journey. Each dog would be allowed a rest period of an hour before being taken on their next trip, so as to ensure no residual agitation or excitement tainted the findings.

“We’ve used what we call a within subjects design,” says Professor Mills. Each dog is its own control. Half the dogs go in the electric car first, and half the dogs go in the diesel first. So that just controls for what we call an order effect. The idea of an order effect is that, having done something once, maybe it affects how you respond a second time. Now, using certain statistical methods, we can tease out that effect and then look to see what's remaining.

Dogs and EVs study labrador with heart rate monitor

The Test

“So the actual protocol itself is the dog has a heart rate monitor attached to it and gets into the car. The engine is switched on. We have two minutes where we collect particularly baseline heart rate data and we also video the dog.

“After two minutes, the dog goes on a short drive, timed at 10 minutes, and then when the car comes back, we wait another two minutes with the engine running to collect more heart rate information, and that’s when we stop. And we’re videoing the dog the whole time, and looking out for a whole range of behaviours that might indicate how relaxed or anxious the dog might be in that situation.”

Dogs and EVs study VW ID3 driving


Of course, the working hypothesis is that dogs will find the lack of engine noise in an EV to be more relaxing. But the results could go the other way. “Dogs are very sensitive to magnetic fields,” Professor Mills points out, before revealing an extraordinary fact: “They tend to line themselves up to point along a north-south axis when they’re defecating.” It’s true – a study published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology in 2013 discovered this sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field and its effect on dogs’ behaviour when relieving themselves. Given electric cars contain large batteries which emit low-frequency magnetic fields, the effect may in fact be to increase agitation, rather than decrease it.

Having selected 20 dogs at random to take part, of varying sizes and breeds, the experiment took place over the course of two days. Of those 20 dogs, only one travelled in an electric vehicle on a day-to-day basis – the rest were all more used to petrol or diesel cars. So what did we find?

Dogs and EVs study Genesis Electrified GV70 driving


Well, the headline news was that the dogs involved in the study did reveal a subtle but noticeable preference for electric cars. In diesel cars, dogs broke their laying position 50 per cent more frequently than in the electric equivalent. While most dogs lay down for the same amount of time, they broke that lay (i.e. stood up and then laid down again) 3.5 times more in the diesel car, which suggests that they were more fidgety and less relaxed in these cars.

There were small changes noted in the dogs' resting heart rates after travel, too, and while these were not great enough to be statistically significant, Professor Mills’s team did believe that, combined with the behavioural evidence, there was enough evidence of some preference for electric cars to warrant further investigation of the topic.

Dogs and Travel Sickness

Interestingly, two of the dogs in the study appeared to suffer particularly with nausea in their cars, indicated by a combination of lip licking, panting and salivation; these dogs exhibited significantly fewer signs of nausea in an EV, as well as a considerably reduced heart rate. That suggests that dogs who suffer from car sickness – a condition that 44% of British dog owners attest to – may find their nausea is reduced when they’re in an electric car.

The study also confirmed that there was no evidence to suggest electric vehicles had any detrimental effect on welfare, which means it’s unlikely that the cars’ magnetic fields have any effect.

But what’s the reason for their preference? That’s harder to discern. What the results seem to indicate for now is that dogs that suffer from car sickness might fare better in electric cars – an intriguing finding that warrants further research. And even dogs that don’t seem to prefer them too. So if you’re choosing a car with your dog in mind – and especially if your dog isn’t a happy traveller – an EV might just make them feel that little bit more comfortable.

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Alex used to be the used cars editor for What Car? and Autocar as well as the Daily Telegraph's consumer motoring editor. He covers all manner of new car news and road tests, but specialises in writing about used cars and modern classics. He's owned more than 40 cars, and can usually be found browsing the CarGurus classifieds, planning his next purchase.

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