Cats and Dogs
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Do dogs like just hanging out with you?

Why Do Dogs Like Sticking Their Head Out of The Car Window?

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.

This is Wyatt (@wyattabouttown). Wyatt loves life, chasing his tail, and his dream. Be more like Wyatt.

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.

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Dog Aware Tip #4: Encourage Dogs and Kids Just to Hang Out

Dog Aware Tip #4: Encourage Dogs and Kids Just to Hang Out

Mandy and Rob decided that it was time to get a puppy, because they wanted their two kids, Sarah age 4 and Trevor age 6 to grow up with a dog. They felt sure that a dog would round out their family and be a faithful playmate for the kids. One day, to shrieks of delight, Mandy came home with a Golden Retriever puppy that Sarah insisted be named Sunflower. The puppy was a bundle of fluffy joy and the family fell instantly in love. Mandy showed her love by picking up the puppy, smooshing her face into the puppy’s face, making kissy noises and talking baby talk. Of course the kids copied her, picking up Sunflower many times a day and showering her with affection. The kids also had lots of fun tumbling and running with the puppy and Rob got some adorable photos and video. Sunflower grew bigger and started squirming and wriggling to get out of all the cuddling that she had previously seemed to enjoy. She became more boisterous and the wild play sessions with kids often ended in tears since Sunflower viewed her human family as playmates and didn’t know that her razor sharp teeth were hurting her friends.

This is a fictional story, but it’s one that every dog trainer has heard over and over. From this point the story could go one of two ways: 1) The family learns how to train their puppy, the parents set boundaries, use crates and gates appropriately and the puppy becomes a full member of the family, getting to hang out with them and go places. 2) The puppy becomes too much to handle, the kids become afraid of her, the parents are overwhelmed and the puppy ends up spending too much time alone in the backyard or in a crate.

Be a Role Model

Parents, you need to learn to model appropriate behavior for the kids. This means, treating the puppy with respect and not treating her like a stuffed animal. It means petting her with one hand and keeping your face out of her face. It means giving love and affection when the puppy seeks this out and not at all times whether the puppy is receptive or not.

Train as a Family

Hands down the best way to nurture a bond of love and respect between kids and puppy is to involve the kids in training. Kids, even as young as those in our story, can learn to click a clicker and toss treats for the puppy. You’d be surprised at how good young children can get at this. Multiple 3 minute training sessions a day are all it takes. Our favorite training resource for kids is the Clicker Puppy training DVD.

Set Boundaries

Give the puppy a safe place (a crate is ideal) where she can go to rest or chew on her toys where the kids won’t bother her. Reinforce your children’s behavior when they choose to leave the puppy alone, by giving them your attention and playing with them or doing an activity with them. Redirect kids and puppy to a more appropriate activity if games involving chasing, biting and wrestling are about to break out.

Here’s how puppies naturally play together. This is why it’s best if the puppy has respect for the kids and doesn’t see them as playmates.

Encourage Just Hangin’ Out

Kids and puppies don’t need to be interacting all day long. They need to learn to be together just chilling and enjoying the company. Try to set up opportunities for the family to be together with the puppy, without interfering with the puppy. At first this might require a crate or playpen, but this should not isolate the puppy. Be sure the puppy is in the same area as the rest of the family, with a long lasting chew treat or toy, so that she can enjoy her treat in peace.

Ages and Stages

As the child and puppy grow, relationships can change. The puppy may ignore a baby altogether and become intensely interested in chasing an active toddler. A previously calm and placid puppy may suddenly at 6-9 months old start pushing boundaries and becoming too rough with children she views as playmates. As children become adolescents they begin to smell different to the dog and the dog’s behavior toward the child may change once again. Parents need to be watching for subtle changes in the dog’s behavior toward the children and continue with training using positive methods throughout the life of the dog. Avoid punishment, reward good behavior, set limits (for both kids and dogs), provide kid and dog zones using gates and/or crates and involve kids in the care and training of the puppy from the beginning. This way you’ll be sure to foster and extraordinary relationship between the kids and the dog that will bring joy to the whole family.

More Resources

Family Paws Parent Education: Expert support and resources for families with dogs.

Clicker Puppy Training Streaming video – Essential training info for kids – 40% off sale – use the code PUPPYSALE40

Doggone Crazy Board Game – have fun while learning about dog body language and how to act around dogs

Doggie Detective® Teacher Kit – for humane educators who want to teach kids to be Dog Aware®

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