Why do dogs stick their heads out of moving cars windows?
March 15, 2007 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Why do dogs stick their heads out of moving cars windows?
posted by econous to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
According to a vet in this article:

"They're pretty much in ecstasy when they're riding in the car and the wind is pushing all these odors in their nose," said Dave Burke, a veterinarian at Grand Traverse Veterinary Hospital. "They can discern things we're totally unaware of."

Burke said studies show that a dog's nose could be 1,000 to 2,000 times more acute than a human's.

posted by acoutu at 9:46 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

i was going to suggest hedonism. on review maybe it is the rush of scent.
posted by de at 9:49 PM on March 15, 2007

Ever ridden a motorcycle? The things you can smell when you're riding (yes, even ... actually, especially ... with a helmet on) is one of the reasons I ride. It's like driving with your head out your car's window. Adds a whole 'nother dimension to the experience of moving that fast.

With a dog's bazillion times more sensitive nose it's got to be better than sex.
posted by SpecialK at 9:53 PM on March 15, 2007

I was just going to say....

"Because its fun".

But theres a lot more rational answers here.
posted by gergtreble at 9:57 PM on March 15, 2007

Yes, they like to smell a lot of things.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:58 PM on March 15, 2007

I call BS on the answers above. I can match an off-the-cuff remark from a veterinarian with another one also by a veterinarian:

I don’t really know. Clearly there is some sort of a pleasant sensation that they get from it - whether it’s the air blowing on their ears, the wind through their hair, or just the better view is hard to say.

I come to ask.mefi for answers. I'm not satisfied. This Ask Yahoo says:

Everyone has witnessed the rapturous joy dogs experience while sticking their heads out of car windows. Amazingly, we couldn't find any scholarly research to explain the behavior.
posted by vacapinta at 10:05 PM on March 15, 2007

My friend (a human) sticks his head out the window whenever the person driving will let him. He's a runner and he just loves the feeling of moving that fast. I don't know if dogs have similar motivations, but liking the feeling of wind in your hair is a pretty universal thing. Given that dogs also like tearing around the backyard like they're on fire, I think comparing the mindset of a marathon runner and a dog is not entirely indefensible.

What was really funny was when someone bought him a propeller beanie and he stuck his head out the window wearing it. I suggest getting one for the dog in your life!
posted by crinklebat at 10:13 PM on March 15, 2007

I would also imagine it would help them to cool down - more air flowing over the tongue = better evaporative cooling. God, dogs are gross.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:19 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I won't dispute vacapinta's response that there is no scholarly research to explain the behavior (I mean, crap, what a waste of time and money would it be to figure out why dogs are happy when they're doing things that make them happy?), but...

Oddly enough, my April '07 issue of Bark came in the mail today, and they have a feature that is, essentially, interpreting 35 behaviors that dogs exhibit. Some of them are quite obvious, some are quite biological, and some are just kind of silly. I'd toss this question into the silly category.

Be no means do I mean posting this answer as definitive, authoritative, nor do they cite any sources. That said, I spend pretty much my entire waking life outside of eating at restaurants or in my car around my own dog or dogs of other people, and I tend to agree with the 70% of their rag that isn't advertising to a large extent. Here's a summary of their answer to your question:
It's fun! Dogs enjoy the feel of wind on their faces*. Smelling while driving better allows dogs to 'see' (to equivalate it to human interaction) the surroundings they're going through. Be forewarned, the possibility of gravel/pebbles kicking up and hitting the dogs in bad places exists
Possibly related, but not necessarily, point 1 in the article is about dogs moving their heads out of the way when being petted. Assuming the dog hasn't been abuse, their response makes sense to me: Dogs prefer to be stroked on the side of the face, under the chin, and on the chest, not on top of the head or back. Sometimes, regardless of the situation, what feels good feels good, be it human hand, peer tongue, or wind.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:26 PM on March 15, 2007

My dog does it 'cause it worries me. If I'd roll down the window enough that he could jump out at the wrong moments, he'd do that, too, just to piss me off. I've asked him, and that's the real reason. He's such a passive-aggressive biscuit eater.
posted by paulsc at 10:29 PM on March 15, 2007 [4 favorites]

As far as I'm concerned, gergtreble has gotten the best answer by a mile.

"Because its fun".

Dogs don't think about things in the way that we do. They live in a world of 'is this a good thing?' and 'is this a bad thing?'

When I see my dog nosing at the window crack (I'll admit that I'm way to afraid to let her jumpy self have a fully down window), my thought has always been:

Why does she like the blowing air? Because it feels good. It's fun. And from a doggy perspective, that is the best thing in the world.
posted by quin at 10:37 PM on March 15, 2007

That said, paulsc, I never drive my car with my dog when the windows are down to the point that my dog (or whoever elses) can get more than their snout out the window, and always always always with window lock on and the doors locked.

My mom damn near lost her dog last year after he somehow depressed the rear-window-down button in back and came damn close to jumping out of the window into a very busy intersection. Granted, he was youngish (less than 2 at the time) and not well trained (they'd recently adopted him), but I'm not about to fuck around with that. It's tense enough driving in Dallas traffic without that worry....
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:38 PM on March 15, 2007

For the longest time, I knew it was because they were extremely sensitive to Carbon monoxide, or some pollutant from the car's engine that builds up minimally, but noticeably to a dog, in the interior of a car.

I was told that a long, long time ago, and I'm very surprised to see it's not mentioned here. Maybe it was BS.
posted by conch soup at 10:44 PM on March 15, 2007

by *knew* I mean I was unquestioningly convinced up until now when my google-fu can't back it up.
posted by conch soup at 10:51 PM on March 15, 2007

Also I suppose it should be "many" or "most" dogs instead of the implicit "All"? My dog gets nervous with all the car bouncing going on and prefers to just sit calmly on the back seat, regardless of whether the windows are down or not.
posted by vacapinta at 10:58 PM on March 15, 2007

I've heard that as well conch soup, but I've seen dogs on bikes and motorcycles doing the same thing (eg, loving the air around them,) which seems to indicate that there might be something more than them trying to get away from an odor.
posted by quin at 11:00 PM on March 15, 2007

My dog does it 'cause it worries me. If I'd roll down the window enough that he could jump out at the wrong moments, he'd do that, too, just to piss me off.

The first, last and only time I opened a car window was in my pickup truck when I got my first dog (a Yorkie mix) -- hadn't had him two weeks, and he was from a shelter and quite attached to my wife. She got out in the bank parking lot, and as I drove away my little Yorkie fellah jumped out the open back window into the bed of the truck, then over the tailgate and tearing across the lot to catch up with my wife.

Now I've got two dogs, and they get three inches of the window, tops. Noses only. And they still love it.
posted by davejay at 11:05 PM on March 15, 2007

er, should have read the preview. make that "The first, last and only time I opened a car window enough for my dog to jump out while he was with me was..."
posted by davejay at 11:06 PM on March 15, 2007

nthing the "it's just fun" answer....hell, i'd stick my head out if i could...
posted by mittenedsex at 11:26 PM on March 15, 2007

mittenedsex, that's easy. Be a passenger for a day. Cars around you will be confused and amused.
posted by quin at 11:32 PM on March 15, 2007

And, of course, to protect their eyes they need a pair of doggles.
posted by JackFlash at 12:14 AM on March 16, 2007

3 days after I got my pup, I stopped at a signal and she quite literally jumped out the car window to go lick the faces of a bunch of guys working at a car wash. Sooooo, she has no window privileges. Fortunately, I think she has no idea what she's missing...
posted by miss lynnster at 12:27 AM on March 16, 2007

The question is: what the hell did dogs do for kicks before the invention of the internal combustion engine?
posted by arha at 1:45 AM on March 16, 2007

I come to ask.mefi for answers. I'm not satisfied.

I think you should ask for a full refund... and demand that the question-answerers have their salaries cut by half! I can't believe the sheer gall of folks not answering to your specifications.

I was told, as a kid, that dogs like car windows because they don't like the smell of the exhaust. I think that must not have been true, because essentially no exhaust gets into a modern car's passenger area, but dogs love windows as much as they ever did. Given that, I think the 'it smells great!' idea is a good explanation.

I've seen dogs described as noses with various ancillary organs to move themselves about.
posted by Malor at 2:59 AM on March 16, 2007

Haven't lived with a dog in 25+ years, but I have vivid memories of our dog's enjoyment. If the windows were closed or she was otherwise blocked from them, she would plant herself in the middle of the front seat with her nose up against the center vent, so I'm in the "it smells good" camp.
posted by worldswalker at 4:57 AM on March 16, 2007

FWIW, our dogs act similarly when we're simply going out for a walk in a strong wind. They turn and face the the wind and let it blow in their faces, all the while displaying a look of ecstasy and joy.

They can't tell me why: The smell? The feeling? The cooling? The sheer excitement? Whatever reason, they love it.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:07 AM on March 16, 2007

Given that dogs who are only allowed an inch or two crack at the top of the window still love to put their noses up there, I would guess that smell is at least a big part of what they're loving.
posted by vytae at 8:41 AM on March 16, 2007

I've wondered about this for years.

Dogs are highly territorial, but if you let them, most of them wiil range far from home. How do they find their way back? If there is any truth at all in those many stories, some of them are remarkably good at it. I suppose they could be using visual cues as we would, but they seem otherwise not too swift, visually, and the area of the world in which their wolf ancestors evolved, the northern Chinese steppes, is not rich in visual landmarks.

I think they could be using memorized smell maps involving sequences of smells and gradients of smells to essentially retrace their steps in smell space. But if you are going to find your way back by smell, you have to be able to smell the route you are taking to get there.

Hence, dogs have a tremendous desire to stick their heads out the window and smell everything they can get their noses into whenever they go anywhere by car, otherwise they will feel 'lost'.
posted by jamjam at 9:13 AM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I actually read somewhere a while back that a dog with its head out the window of a fast moving car is not only getting a bunch of (to them) very interesting smells, but also is having a bunch of oxygen fly up their nose at a very rapid rate, giving them a head rush. So yes, smells are good, but if this is true, the pups like to get a little high on a car trip as well. Awesome.
posted by freudenschade at 9:36 AM on March 16, 2007

a bunch of oxygen fly up their nose at a very rapid rate, giving them a head rush. So yes, smells are good, but if this is true, the pups like to get a little high

Yup. I've had dogs get all dreamy-eyed when people blew air (and not merely let dogs smell their breath) into their faces.
posted by skywhite at 1:53 PM on March 16, 2007

I blew into the nostrils of a Blue Heeler once to get him to let go of a frisbee-- a trick that had worked many times before on other dogs-- and he barked into my face so loudly that many of my eyelashes fell out.
posted by jamjam at 4:17 PM on March 16, 2007

And thus jamjam learned the valuable lesson: do not mess with blue heelers. They are smart, fast, strong, and more than willing to destroy not one, but two rooms in your house to make a point.

They also have a built in intuition about exactly where to jump up to hit you right in the crotch, and know when to do it when you least expect it.

I won't say that they, as a breed, are evil incarnate. I will say that mine is evil incarnate though.

Which, of course, is why she's my little girl
posted by quin at 5:08 PM on March 16, 2007

This could be the same as asking why does a human look from side to side when they are moving through out their day. I would site that the biology of a dog lends it to wanting to be completely aware of its surroundings. A better view can be acheived by sticking its head out the window thus affording the dog a better view of its surroundings- both through site and smell. If the dog is allowed to do this each time it enters the vehicle it may become more habit for the dog to do so the second time because they feel it is the correct behavior when in the automobile. Also, I feel that the dog sticks its head out the window simply because it can do so quite easily. So, the correct answer might be "why not"?
posted by bkeene12 at 9:04 PM on March 16, 2007

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