Daredevil Evel Knievel famously said, “I love the feeling of the fresh air on my face and the wind blowing through my hair.” Dogs agree. While few dogs will attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket propelled motorcycle like Knievel did in 1974, most dogs would jump at a car ride with wide open windows and the chance to stick its head out and let the wind whip by. Unfortunately, allowing your dog to do this is very dangerous.
Why Dogs Stick Their Head Out the Window
Interestingly, the reason most dogs like doing this has little to do with enjoying the scenery or feeling the wind. The reason that dogs like to stick their heads outside cars while driving is because the wind smells so good. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell with about 300 million olfactory receptors in their cute noses. In comparison, human noses have six million, which means the dogs ability to smell and process smells is between 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than humans. So, during a drive, a dog sticks its head out the window to enjoy the infinite number of new and interesting smells zipping by. Moreover, get a whiff of this fact: the way dogs exhale is remarkably different from humans and allows dogs to continue smelling new odors as they exhale.1 That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Risks of Letting Your Dog Ride in the Car
Despite the joy and often comical look on a dog’s face when its head is sticking out a car window, it is very dangerous. First, if unrestrained, there is the risk of the dog jumping out of the car, accidentally falling out of the car, or getting hit by another car or object. Second, and perhaps less obvious, is the fact that the wind also carries foreign objects that could harm your dog. Something as harmless as a leaf or insect could cause serious damage to your dog’s eye, particularly if you are driving at a high speed. Also, pebbles, rocks, or other projectiles could strike your dog. In other words, a lot of bad things can happen to your dog, you and your passengers, and other drivers.
Precautions When Driving with Your Pet
Besides keeping the windows closed, there are many precautions you should take when traveling with your dog in a car. Generally, dogs should not be unrestrained while traveling in cars, regardless of the dog’s size. The best protection for your dog is to drive with your pet in a travel crate that is safely secured on the floor or back seat. Also, never allow your dog to travel in the front seat, even if your dog calls “shotgun.” Dogs in cars can unfortunately, cause a distraction to the driver, which puts you and your dog at risk of serious injury. Moreover, if an accident does occur, serious injury to your dog can occur if the airbags are deployed since they are not designed to protect animals.
We often think of our pets as our fur babies, so it’s good common sense that we take the same precautions when driving with our pets as we do with human cargo. Travel crates, like child car seats, are often designed to work with seat belts and will ensure your pet’s safety on the road. If you drive a truck, never allow your dog to ride in the back of an open truck. Also, make sure your dog is wearing a collar with contact information in the event your pet gets lost on a road trip. For long drives, make sure you take frequent brakes and provide plenty of water. Most importantly, never leave your dog unattended in a vehicle under any circumstances.
Laws Against Driving with Pets
While there is currently only one state that has a law against driving with a dog in your lap or unrestrained, several states allow for citations and fines if your dog causes a distraction while you are driving. In Hawaii, driving with your dog in your lap or unrestrained could result in a fine. Additionally, in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, a driver can be ticketed and fined for laws related to distracted driving and animal anti-cruelty laws.2
Traveling with your dog can be tremendously enjoyable and allow you to create long-lasting memories. Dogs also enjoy the opportunity to explore new places and find new smells. Even though your dog may enjoy sticking its head outside the window, and the sight of your dog’s face as the wind creates goofy looks is sure to make you laugh; it really should be avoided. Instead, you could leave a window slightly cracked to let the wind circulate throughout the car. That way, you can also enjoy the different scents along the way, although your dog will enjoy it 10,000 times more.
1 Tyson, Peter. Nova. October 3, 2012. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/
2 Ingram, Leah. “The Real Danger of Driving with a Dog in Your Lap.” Parade. March 8, 2018. https://parade.com/652636/leahingram/the-real-danger-of-driving-with-a-dog-in-your-lap/