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Why Dogs Stick Their Head Out of Car Windows: 6 Vet Reviewed Reasons & Tips

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on July 22, 2024 by Dogster Team

Happy Dog enjoying the ride while sticking his head out of the window

Why Dogs Stick Their Head Out of Car Windows: 6 Vet Reviewed Reasons & Tips


Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg  Photo


Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Do you let your dog ride a shotgun or in the backseat when you go out for a drive? And if you’ve ever rolled down your windows for one of those rides, chances are you’ve seen your dog stick their heads out of the window, tongue flapping in the wind.

While it’s a pretty cute sight, why do they do it? Is it safe or should you roll the windows back up? It is generally considered safe to let your pup ride with their head out of the window, as long as safety guidelines are always followed.

That said, the reason for this behavior is much more than just enjoying the breeze. In this article, we’re demystifying the why and how of this behavior.

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The 6 Reasons Why Dogs Stick Their Heads Out of Car Windows

Besides being adorable, dogs experience a variety of sensations when they pop out their heads from car windows:

1. It’s a Buffet of Smells

On average, a dog’s nose has around 300 million scent receptors, while humans only have five million. Their olfactory cortex, which is the part of their brain that processes smell, is around 40x larger than ours.

Because of this, dogs receive an insane amount of olfactory stimulation just by sticking their head out of a moving vehicle. That’s why you’ll often see them sniffing the air with their eyes closed because, at that moment, they’re overwhelmed by all of the incredible smells they can detect.

Dog nose
Image Credit: LUM3N, Pixabay

2. The Wind in Their Hair Feels Nice

The wind rushing through your dog’s fur feels like a mini massage. It’s stimulating, calming, and just downright pleasurable. As if that isn’t enough, the wind can also blow away any dirt or bugs that may be stuck in their hair.

3. It Provides Mental Stimulation

Dogs need mental enrichment to stay happy and healthy, and sticking their head out of your car window is one of the most fun ways to do just that. Almost all of their senses get engaged (their sense of smell, sight, and touch), and that’s an enriching experience that can provide them with a sense of fulfillment.

dog sticking his head out of the car window
Image Credit: W W, Pexels

4. They’re Watching “Dog TV”

Your eyes may be on the road, but your pup’s eyes are glued to the scenery passing by. The sights, sounds, and smells of the outside world provide a constant stream of stimuli for dogs, which helps keep them alert and engaged.

Dogs also have a tendency to look for patterns in the environment, so when your pup is sticking its head out the window, it may be looking for animals, people, or interesting objects that appear and disappear from time to time.

5. It’s a Way to Cool Off

Even though dogs are equipped with fur to keep themselves warm, sticking their heads out of car windows is also a way for them to cool off. When the air passes over their body, it evaporates the sweat on their fur, which is a way for them to regulate their body temperature and stay comfortable.

Dog relaxing while sticking head head out of the car window
Image Credit: Ignacio Amenábar, Unsplash

6. It’s a Delightful Break From Their Regular Routine

From our point of view, car rides are nothing special. It’s something we do almost every day, so it can tend to get boring. But for a dog, car rides are a welcome break from their daily routine. It’s a way for them to mix things up and experience something new, which can make the ride even more enjoyable.

Tips for Keeping Your Dog Safe During Car Rides

While most dogs enjoy sticking their heads out the window, it can be dangerous. After all, they’re inside a moving vehicle, which means it’s important to take certain precautions. Here are some simple tips you can use to make sure your pup stays safe when they’re enjoying the ride:

Secure your dog the moment they get inside the car.

Dogs should never be allowed to roam freely in a car. Keep in mind that they don’t understand the concept of a car and the associated dangers of the road. That’s why it’s important to have a good restraint system in place. Dog harnesses, seatbelts, and crates can help keep your pup secure in the car and prevent them from jumping out of a window or onto your lap.

dog in the backseat of a car
Image Credit: Andrey Popov, Shutterstock

Only keep the windows around halfway down.

Your dog may enjoy feeling the wind in their fur, but you don’t want to let them stick their heads out too far. If they do, they may get injured by flying objects. Keeping the windows around halfway down can be a good compromise between safety and fun.

Make sure your dog knows basic commands.

Unless you’re sitting beside them or someone else is driving, you want to be able to control your pup at all times inside your vehicle. That’s why it helps to make sure your pup knows basic commands before taking them for a ride.

For instance, you should make sure they know how to sit, lay down, and stay in one place. “No” and “leave it” are also useful commands you may want to teach your pup.

Woman trains her white maltese dog in the park
Image Credit: Monika Wisniewska, Shutterstock

Bring water and a toy along for the ride.

It’s important to keep your pup hydrated and entertained while you’re out driving. Bring a bowl of fresh water and one or two interesting toys so your pup can stay hydrated and occupied during the ride. Consider pre-medicating your dog 1–2 hours prior to anticipated car travel to prevent nausea if your dog has shown a history of car sickness.

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Summing Up

Most dogs stick their heads out of car windows for a simple reason: it’s fun! But as their owner, it’s your job to keep them safe as they enjoy the sights and sounds on the road.

Make sure they’re safely restrained, keep the windows halfway down, and bring along some water and toys. Most of all, remember that car rides can be a great way to bond with your pup, so don’t forget to enjoy the ride too.

Happy exploring!

Featured Image Credit: Andrew Pons, Unsplash

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