Sometimes, when I want to feel particularly alert while being driven around in a car, I’ll put the window down and stick my head out the window, taking in the passing breeze and letting it, essentially, wake me up. These moments are generally good; it feels good both to simply stick your head out the window, as well as be driven around. It turns out, dogs have similar reasons for always sticking their heads out of cars: They like taking in as much of the world as possible, and associate those experiences as positive.
While there are competing studies observing different aspects of why dogs stick their heads out of moving car windows, they all agree on the fact that this is a uniform behavior, and one that’s linked, consciously or not, to various forms of position reinforcements. There’s the idea that dogs, with their acute senses of smell, take in vigorous whips of information via their window excursions; for them, the moments in which they’re sticking their noses into a slew of new and exciting smells are intoxicating.
However, there are other studies which pay less attention to the possible pleasurable reasoning behind dog behavior, and instead focus more on the role of social training. Perhaps dogs, when they’re in cars, are participating in their own forms of pack behaviors; after all, humans also love to stick their heads and limbs out of car windows, so it seems natural that dogs might mimic their owners’ behaviors. There’s also the fact that for most dogs, being driven in a car might be a rare-ish occasion, one that they mark in their own particular way, e.g. sticking their head out of the window.
Most likely, the “true” reasoning behind dogs’ behaviors with windows is a combination of all of those things, or perhaps we humans are just overthinking the intent behind the motion. Sometimes, all you want out of a window breeze is the breeze itself; it isn’t a reflection of some other instinct, or some other want. But considering the important role that canines play in human society, it’s not surprising that we want to peer closer into their brains and try to understand them better, on our own terms. Yet in the end, dogs are just as predictable, and yet unique as people are. And sometimes, they might just want to feel the wind whip past them on a hot day, on a cool night, as the sights stream past at a cinematic clip.