Head out of the window, jowls flapping, and a great big, goofy smile on their face. There can be no doubt that our pups would rather travel half-outside of the car than on the back seat.

But why do dogs like sticking their head out of the car window, and is it safe for them to do so? Are they likely to jump at the first sign of a squirrel of playmate?

We answer these questions and more, below.

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Why Do Dogs Stick Their Head Out of The Car Window?

It's a common misconception that dogs love to feel the wind whip by as they stick their head out of the window. Actually, while some dogs may enjoy the feel of a cool wind coursing through their hair, it's the plethora of smells that they're interested in.

See, dogs have somewhere in the region of 300 million smell receptors (or, olfactory receptors). Compare this to humans, who have around 400 scent receptors, according to official research.

Consider just how much your dog loves to walk, and you'll see why they're so obsessed with hanging out of the window; it's a smell smorgasbord. And that's also why they'll show their face within a nanosecond of you opening a food packet.

Of course, not all dogs are built the same. Some dogs simply don't want to lean out of your window while you're driving.

The Dangers of Allowing Your Dog to Lean Out of the Car Window

We've all driven past a dog hanging out of their car window, and we've undoubtedly thought it was cute. But in reality, while many pet owners will allow this, it isn't safe behavior for your pup.

Have you ever wondered why these dogs don't just slip through the open window to enjoy their freedom? The answer is, it can and does happen.

A slightly less common risk is that this level of exposure to the wind can be harmful to your dog's health. All it takes is for a rogue insect or blade of grass to become lodged in your pup's eye. At high speeds, sharp debris could also cause an eye injury. Consider how many times you've heard a kicked-up stone hit your car while driving on the freeway. Now, imagine that it strikes your canine riding in the back, rather than your paintwork.

It's worth noting that all of that wind exposure can have other potentially damaging effects. Over time, high-speed wind impact can cause damage to the soft tissue in your pup's ears.

Dog in car

Finally, think about the potential distractions too. If you’ve got one eye on your pup, making sure that they aren’t slipping past the glass, you’re paying less attention to the road.

How Can I Stop My Dog Leaning Out of the Car?

There is one immediate and obvious solution to this problem: don't open the rear passenger windows. This will put a stop to your pup's desperation to lean out of the window, unless, of course, they’re so ingrained in the habit that they claw at your glass.

A fallback method is to properly restrain your dog in the back. Travel crates are one option, which can be secured to your vehicle's interiors. Alternatively, larger vehicles might have space in the back, with a metal grate to separate the passenger compartment from the dog’s personal space. That said, never allow your dog to ride in the back of an open truck.

How Should My Dog Ride in the Car?

While we’ve outlined some of the most important points and methods of restraint above, we’ve got a few pointers for you. Here are some more pointers on how your dog should and shouldn’t ride in your car:

  • Take frequent breaks when you’re making a long journey.
  • Provide your pup with plenty of water when you do stop.
  • Never leave your dog in the car unattended. Aside from the risk of damage, if it’s a hot day, they can overheat incredibly quickly. You may also come back to find that your window has been smashed by the authorities.
  • They should be wearing a collar at all times that contains your contact information.
  • Your dog should be microchipped. Many states mandate this by law, and scanning for a microchip is usually the first thing a shelter or vet will do when a stray dog shows up.
  • Don’t allow your dog to hang around in the back seat, unrestrained. Some dogs behave better than others, but it’s a risk that’s not worth taking. If they try climbing into the front, it could cause you to have an accident. In this scenario, if your airbags are deployed, they can cause serious injury to your pup.

Of course, you should still be able to enjoy taking your canine on road trips so that they can visit their family or favorite national parks. With the advice above, you and your pup can continue to indulge in car journeys together, but you’ll be safe in the knowledge that there’s no risk of harm to them.