Why Do Dogs Stick Their Heads Out Car Windows?

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on May 28th, 2020

When it comes to dog car safety, one of the first questions owners ask is whether or not to allow their pup to hang their head out of the car window. After all, our dogs seem to love the wind on their fuzzy little faces. And let’s face it, if you’ve got an overexcited doggo, sometimes it’s nice to channel those high-pitched whines to the outside world so that they’re not distracting you from driving. But animal experts have been pushing back on this practice, suggesting that you might want to keep all human and animal body parts inside the car.

In this BreezeGuard blog, we’re going to explore the behavior behind this common canine habit and talk about the risks. We’ll also troubleshoot some behavior issues so that your family can practice dog car safety without going bonkers.

First things first: Why do dogs do that?
What is so enticing about sticking their head out the window that makes this such a universal doggie trait?

In most cases, it’s all about the smell. Animal behaviorists agree that more than the breeze and sun, dogs are drawn outside by their enhanced sense of smell.

A dog’s nose works by filtering air, and thus scent particles, through their perfectly designed nasal passageways. When moseying around the backyard, your pup has to do the hard work of actively sniffing up all the interesting smells in the air or on the ground. But in the car? That steady stream of air does the work for them! They just have to position their snout and let the smells come to them.

And, it’s practical, too. Dogs may be able to use that information to figure out whether you’re en route to the dog park or—shudder—the groomers.

So, it makes sense! Even as humans, we may roll the window down while we drive past the ocean or a beautiful orange orchard. But, without the superior nasal capacity of our four-legged friends, we just may not appreciate it enough to want to stick our heads out the window.

But there may be something else at play here too. As Discover Magazine points out, sticking their head out of the window may give dogs a sense of security. Being in a confined space feels a lot better when there’s an obvious exit route, and the ability to survey their surroundings can make a dog feel more relaxed. And it’s this point that makes the next part of the discussion difficult to reconcile. Because while dogs love to stick their head out the window, it might not be the best for them.

The Downside for Safety
As much as your dog wants to put their head out of the car window, there are hazards.

On the one hand, an open window could entice an excited dog to jump out, especially if they see something triggering like wildlife or a friend. Or, a dog may fall accidentally around a sharp turn or sudden brake.

Plus, your pup may also be at risk of being hit by passing objects, such as tree branches or kicked up rocks. And even small debris and the constant high impact of wind on a dog’s face could leave them with vision and hearing problems later on.

There’s also the risk that a dog will inadvertently step on the window controls while trying to get a better view. Child controls help with that, but accidents can happen if your back seat switches frequently from doggie area to passenger seating. It can be easy to forget if you turned those child controls back on.

Altogether, these risks prompt veterinarians to advise against allowing your pup to put their head out the window if you’re going to be driving more than 25 miles per hour.

But they love it so much! What is a loving dog owner to do?
Clearly, there’s a heartbreaking problem here. We want our dogs to be able to enjoy the many sights and smells of the outdoors. We surely don’t want to stress them out. But, as responsible pet owners, good dog car safety is the main priority. Luckily, there are a few easy and effective solutions:

#1: Invest in BreezeGuard screens so that your dog can still enjoy the fresh air
BreezeGuard screens are installed inside your car, keeping your pup inside while still allowing you to open the windows. That means that your pup will still get a steady stream of fresh air throughout the drive while lowering the risk for projectiles and eliminating their chance of falling out or escaping.

Plus, BreezeGuard screens are built so that your dog can still see their surroundings, which will give them a better sense of security.

#2: Work on making driving a calmer experience
While BreezeGuard screens are a great tool for dog car safety, there are a few ways that you can address your dog’s behavior in the car, as well. We mentioned earlier that doggos tend to get overstimulated – and loud! – during car trips, so how can you help them mellow out?

The key is positive reinforcement training. You want to reward the behavior that you want to see, and ignore the behavior that you want them to stop. That means, as hard as it may be, you’ll want to keep yourself from yelling at your dog to stop barking or whining in the car, which may make them more anxious. Instead, make it a point to acknowledge them with over-the-top verbal love and treats only when they’re quiet.

You’ll want to start this training process with short car trips or even in a parked car so that you can stay present in the training session while also practicing dog car safety. Keep in mind that this may be a long process if your dog is accustomed to barking or whining the car, but the more consistent you are, the quicker they’ll learn what you want them to do!

#3: Give your dog plenty of other opportunities to flex their smelling muscles
Doggos love to sniff around and explore the outside world. If you feel that your dog is adamant about getting their snout out of the car window, it may be a sign that they could use more opportunities to exercise their smelling abilities. In our recent blog, Keep Your Dog’s Mind Sharp with Fun Dog Puzzles, we covered some great games and toys that will satisfy your pup’s need to sniff. By supplementing with more sniffing sessions, you might find that they’re more relaxed in the car.

Practice good dog car safety by keeping those snouts inside
The reasons why a dog would want to stick their head out of the car window are completely understandable. But as responsible dog owners, we want to make sure that our puppers are safe, too. With the right tools and training, we can help to give our dogs the sniffing experience they desire while also practicing dog car safety. Check back in with the BreezeGuard Blog for more safety and training tips!

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