Why Do Dogs Love to Stick their Heads Out of Car Windows?

April 21, 2012

Anyone familiar with the canine nose already knows the answer to this one. It’s not the sights or sounds, it’s the smells.

On average a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors compared to the 5 million or so that humans have. They’ve also got something else we don’t have: a chamber called the vomeronasal organ. When a dog sniffs odor molecules accumulate in another unique structure, a sort of nasal pocket created by a bony subethmoidal shelf. This is the structure that allows dogs to compare a scent and then track it.

Their noses are far more acute than their eyes; the opposite is true for humans. So for a dog the appeal of having the air rush through their noses at the speed of a car is a sensory smörgåsbord of every smell in the area, constantly refreshed with new scents as the terrain changes. It’s stimulating to them in a way that is hard to compare to a human’s ability to sense and appreciate pleasant smells.

So, within reason, this is a pleasure you shouldn’t deny your pooch. I don’t allow it on highways, for example, but cruising around town on local roads I’ll always lower a window for my dogs, even in the bitter cold of winter.



One Response to “Why Do Dogs Love to Stick their Heads Out of Car Windows?”

  1. Dog's Sense of Smell Part 3 - Vignettes of a Traveler on September 18th, 2015 11:06 am

    […] meaningful connection. I wonder what she smiles about. I suspect (maybe even read somewhere) such deep smelling and sensory engagement is a rush, an endorphin high. Damn dog is getting stoned. Or, maybe she’s just super pumped to be […]

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