Ah, the life of a dog. No job to leave home for every morning, which means no long commute. There's always a warm place to curl up and sleep, especially the couch when the human's away. Then, there's the ball. What a wonderful invention; so much fun to chase and chew on. You can't deny that dogs have it pretty good.
None of these pleasures can compare to the sheer joy of a car ride. Excepting those that include a visit to the vet, car rides can be about as exciting a time as a dog can have. The only problem is that your dog lacks opposable thumbs, which are important for steering and shifting. So your dog has to patiently await your invitation to come along for a ride, possibly raising its head and wagging its tail to indicate that it would like to join you whenever you grab your car keys and make for the front door.
Finally, you break down, pat your thigh and make kissing noises at your dog -- it's time for a nice Sunday drive. You just open the sun roof, roll down the windows or lower the roof on your convertible and you're off. You two make quite a pair, the wind sailing through your hair and fur. Your dog looks pretty happy, head sticking out the window, jowls and ears flapping in the breeze, a string of drool trailing back onto the windshield of the car behind you. It may look like fun, but allowing your dog to ride with his or her head out the window can be harmful, if not outright dangerous.
We don't mean to rain on your dog's parade, but there are a few things you should know before you two go for your next ride.
Pet Head out the Window: A Harmful Habit
Despite the seeming biological imperative of every dog that's ever ridden in a car to stick its head out the window, it's actually a harmful habit.
Before the 1920s, automobiles commonly lacked windshields. Although cars back then were comparatively slow by today's standards -- the 1920 Ford Model T topped out at 45 mph (72 kph) -- drivers of cars without windshields wore goggles to protect their eyes [source: Automobile Magazine]. Now that windshields come standard on all vehicles, everyone inside is protected from debris and other road hazards. That's great, but you shouldn't try sticking your head out the window going 55 mph (89 kph) down the highway.
With your dog's head out the window, its eyes are exposed to dust, dirt, rocks and anything else that gets kicked up by your car and others on the road. Allowing your dog to stick its head out of the window while you drive leaves your dog's eyes exposed to possible scratches or punctures.
Even if you've gone so far as to purchase goggles for your dog and spent weeks training it not to slide them off with its paw, there are still other dangers that remain when your dog's head is out the window during driving. The soft ear flaps -- called pinnae -- can swell and become tender from flapping in the wind [source: PFD]. The repeated and rapid flapping of the pinnae against your dog's skull from high-speed winds actually causes trauma to the ear; blood pools in the ear flaps, which can cause painful swelling. After repeated trauma, the soft tissue in the ears can scar, causing lifelong problems for your pooch.
Of course, the worst possible outcome from allowing your dog to stick its head out the window while you drive is falling out of the car at high speeds. Dogs can slide through some tight spaces; look no further than the closest home doggie door for proof. A head stuck out of the window can easily lead to falling out the window if you encounter bumpy terrain or some other jarring road obstruction. A spill can cause broken bones, internal injuries and worse if other cars can't brake in time to avoid hitting your pet.
All of this adds up to another conclusion: It's a bad idea to allow your dog to ride in the bed of a pickup truck. All of the dangers of sticking its head out the window from inside the car are increased, since the bed of a pickup offers little or no protection from wind, debris, or falls. On top of that, a pickup's metal bed can reach dangerous temperatures on a hot day, which can cause damage to the soft tissue on a dog's paws.
Ultimately, the best place for your dog to ride is secured inside the cabin of the vehicle. Crating your dog or purchasing a special car seat that restrains it like a small child is the best way to make sure you and your pooch arrive at your destination happy and healthy.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- "A look at the history of automotive glass." Glass Links. Accessed January 2, 2009. http://www.glasslinks.com/newsinfo/ag_history.htm
- "Ear problems in pets." Oak Animal Hospital. Accessed January 2, 2009. http://www.oakvet.com/index.php?view=pageView&docid=100049797
- "Eye care for dogs: general FAQs." Drs. Foster and Smith. Accessed January 2, 2009. http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?aid=1066#answer_5
- "Features: 1920 Ford Model T." Automobile Magazine. Accessed January 2, 2009. http://www.automobilemag.com/features/great_drives/0811_1920_ford_model_t/price_transmission_engine_fuel_economy.html
- "Pet safety." Phoenix Fire Department. Accessed January 2, 2009. http://phoenix.gov/FIRE/petsafet.html