Dog leaning out window of car

(Picture Credit: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images)

Dogs like sticking their heads out of windows during car rides. Why exactly do they like to do this? Maybe it’s the wind blowing on their faces making their mouths form smiles, or maybe they just love the feel of the air moving through their fur.

Our pups may have many reasons for sticking their heads out of windows on drives, but based on observations and research in animal behavior, it’s probably mostly because of the smells outside. If we like watching the world roll by outside on a drive with our eyes, dogs experience the same thing with their noses.

“Dogs receive more olfactory stimulation with their heads fully outside the car versus inside the car,” says Natalie Zielinski, Wisconsin Humane Society director of behavior services. “And even having the window down only a few inches seems to provide enrichment and stimulation that dogs will seek out.”

Using Senses To Enjoy The Good Things Outside

Just how far and how much can dogs smell when they stick their heads out of car windows? It seems that every object and sensation becomes available to them when the windows are rolled down.

VCA Mesa Animal Hospital veterinary behaviorist and medical director Dr. Kelly Moffat says that the sights and goings-on outside are enticing to dogs. “Putting their head out the window gets them closer to all the exciting happenings outside of the car,” she stated in an interview.

More than the sights and smells, tactile stimulation completes the experience. When the wind blows on your dog’s face, more senses become engaged for them to make sense of the passing view.

Dogs may also tend to stick their heads out of the window as a way to get fresh air from inside a stuffy car. And in the same way that people may get restless in a confined space, dogs may feel cooped up. Open windows are — quite literally — windows to the outside world.

More About That Sense Of Smell

Dogs’ noses are sensitive enough to pick up on many smells — but just how great is this sense compared to ours?

Dogs’ sniffers can pick up smells up to 10,000 to 100,000 times better than people’s noses can. Part of this discrepancy may be attributed to the 300 million olfactory receptors that they have. For us, we’re limited to using only six million.

Here’s a rough comparison. If we can smell sugar in our coffee by the teaspoon, dogs can smell the same amount of sugar in coffee that fills up two Olympic pools.

Their noses can distinguish between smells, too. This makes dogs great at being sniffer dogs for rescue searches.

If that’s not enough, dogs even have a second olfactory function thanks to an organ that is exclusive to them. The vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ is at the bottom of dogs’ nasal passages. It picks up pheromones that each animal — including humans — possess, and dogs use this organ’s amazing abilities to make them experts at search and rescue.

Does your dog stick their head outside the window during a drive? Why do you think they love it so much? Let us know in the comments below!

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