Should dogs put their heads out car windows? Florida bill says no

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Dogs love cars almost as much as humans love dogs. They will gladly hop into a car or truck and then seemingly enjoy the ride. There are few sights that more quickly elicit a smile than a dog sticking its head out a vehicle’s window, nose into the wind, ears flapping. Sometimes, the dog even looks like it’s grinning.

Under a new animal-welfare bill proposed by Florida senator Lauren Book (D-Broward), letting Fido or Rover catch a breeze could catch you a moving violation in the Sunshine State.

Dogs aren’t the only animals covered by Senate Bill 932, which prohibits the declawing of cats (except for therapeutic purposes) and increases the penalties for animal cruelty, though canines are the only species covered with restrictions when being transported in a motor vehicle. The idea isn’t just to protect dogs by keeping them crated or harnessed; it’s also to protect humans from getting struck and injured by an unrestrained pet in the event of a collision.

In addition to making it a traffic violation to allow a dog to extend its head or any part of its body outside the window of a car operating on a public road, Florida Senate Bill 932 also would prohibit a driver from holding a dog in their lap, letting it sit on the gas tank of a moving motorcycle, transporting a dog in a towed vehicle, or transporting a dog in an enclosed cargo space like a trunk or on a fender, hood, roof, or running board.

The dog must be either secured in a crate or with a harness or pet seatbelt. Dogs in the beds of pickup trucks must be secured in a crate that itself is secured to the bed and has sufficient interior room and protection from the elements.

The part about transporting a dog on the roof of a car may be an oblique reference to a somewhat infamous event in the family history of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (While on a 12-hour road trip from Massachusetts to Ontario, the Romneys put their Irish Setter, Seamus, in a carrier on top of their car.) Senator Book is, after all, a Democrat, and most motor vehicles haven’t had running boards since the 1930s. The ones found today, on high-riding trucks and SUVs, retract once the doors are closed.

It’s possible that Book is referencing early car accessories that in fact did transport dogs on the running boards of cars. An advertisement published in the June, 1936 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine says that your dog could ride “safely and comfortably” in a large canvas sack (with a “hole for head”). The sack would be suspended by hooks from the frame of a rear window and secured to the running board with two C-clamps fastened to a wooden board sewn into the bottom of the sack.

Popular Mechanics

An earlier, 1920s take on the same general idea was the Bird Dog Palace, a small cage that was also clamped to the running board and promised “Traveling Comfort for the Dog.” From the name “Bird Dog Palace,” and the advertisement’s mention of “sportsman’s equipment,” the intended occupants were hunting dogs. In such pursuits, the animals can get dirty and wet, so the driver’s comfort was also likely a factor. Driver convenience? Not so much.

The Bird Dog Palace took up most of the running board, blocking the driver’s door. The Palace was made of “high quality automobile materials” and finished with “genuine DuPont Duco paint,” while its interior wooden parts were covered to protect them from dogs’ urge to gnaw. Made in Golden, Missouri, the single-dog version was priced at $12.50. A Palace with room for two was a half dollar more.

Dwight McBride Yellow Pine Sales Co.

In more recent years, even before you started seeing paw-shaped “Dog Mom” stickers on the back of crossovers, the auto industry had taken note of the needs of dogs and their owners. Already popular with dog owners because of its easily hosed-down interior, in 2007, Honda introduced the “Dog Friendly” version of its Element utility vehicle.

This vehicle highlighted a family of Dog Friendly accessories for the Element that included second-row and cargo-area pet restraints, a cushioned and elevated pet bed in the cargo area with space for a spill-resistant water bowl and a nearby fan for cooling off pets, all-season rubber floor mats, and an extendable cargo area load-in ramp—like you’d find on a U-Haul truck—to make it easier for dogs to climb into the Element. Also included were a leash and collar, dog tag, a tote bag, and a dispenser for plastic bags.

(After thousands of years of humans manipulating the dog genome so our four-legged friends could assist us, humans now can’t walk their dogs without carrying a plastic bag to bring home the dogs’ waste. Anyone else find that ironic?)


Dogs like to chase cars, and now automakers like to chase dog owners.

In 2017, Nissan introduced the X-Trail 4Dogs SUV, billed as “the ‘pawfect’ car for family adventures.” Like the Dog Friendly Element, the 4Dogs X-Trail had an access ramp, along with dedicated cargo space to keep up to two dogs comfortable and safe, a two-way “dog cam,” and a built-in pet shower and dryer.

Unlike the Dog Friendly Element, the X-Trail 4Dogs was not actually available to the 90 percent of car owners who, a Nissan survey showed, wanted more dog-friendly features; it was only a concept vehicle.

Having found, in crash testing, that an unrestrained dog can hit passengers with a force equal to about 40 times its body weight, Volvo offers a line of official dog accessories that includes rear-seat harnesses as well as dog gates and cargo area crates designed, with a Swedish touch, to integrate with the interior styling. As a matter of fact, at one Volvo auto-show press conference, swag given to journalists included a dog car harness that attaches to a second-row seatbelt.

After that bit of car canine history, you might wonder why dogs like to stick their heads out of car windows in the first place.

Some experts think that it has to do with dogs’ sense of smell. Humans rely primarily on vision, but most canines “see” the world through their olfactory sense. Not only does a dog’s nose have two different air passages, one for breathing and one for smelling, it has as many as 300 million scent receptors, sixty times the number in a human nose. The signals from those sensors are processed by an olfactory cortex in the dog’s brain that is 40 times the size of the comparable structure in humans.

Dog Travel By Car During Sunny Summer Day
Getty Images/EyeEm

“Dogs receive more olfactory stimulation with their heads fully outside the car versus inside the car,” says Natalie Zielinski, director of behavior services at the Wisconsin Humane Society.

“When sticking their head out the window, they can smell every person in the street, every trash can they go by, every patch of grass, restaurant, and other dogs.” says the ironically named Jennifer Cattet, the owner of Medical Mutts, a service-dog training center in Indianapolis and animal behavior researcher.

“It’s like watching TV for us,” Cattet tells Discover.

That may be a mixed metaphor, since many dogs also have keen vision. An entire family of breeds called “sight hounds,” which includes greyhounds, borzois, Afghan hounds, and Irish wolfhounds, hunt and chase by vision, not just smell. Dogs sticking their heads out of car windows may just be enjoying the view.

Close-Up Of Dog In Car window open wind face
Getty Images/EyeEm

Zielinski described an open car window as a sensory trifecta for dogs. In addition to a smorgasbord of sights and smells, the air blowing on their faces and vibrissae, or “whiskers,” is likely a pleasant sensation. Cattet also said basic behavior is also at play, since dogs are naturally claustrophobic.

“When dogs are confined in any capacity, they tend to look for an opening,” she said.

Another explanation of why dogs like to stick their heads out of car windows may be related the same reason humans use a switch to roll down those same windows: to cool off. Dogs don’t sweat like humans. They control their body heat through the pads of their feet and by panting. To use an automotive metaphor, dogs’ long tongues are heat exchangers; putting their heads out of car windows allows those biological radiators to work very efficiently.

What say you, Senator Book?


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    No I have never let a dog do this. The ones that really make me mad are those with a large dog in their lap as they drive. That is just stupid.

    Happy Dog = Happy Owner! Mine has two trucks she is guaranteed a ride in–with head out the window. Happy, happy, happy…

    I hope Senator Book would say that it’s pretty dangerous for anything with, you know, eyeballs to stick its head into 30-60mph headwinds. If your dog wants Them Smells – roll the window down enough for them to sniff.

    Mississippi is the butt of a lot of jokes, but thankfully we’re able to freely drive around in our un-inspected vehicles spewing as much emissions as we want, all while letting our dogs hang out of windows or sitting on tool boxes in the back of our trucks.

    As if there weren’t already enough reasons, Florida has now eliminated ANY hope for my family to ever visit the state. My dog will always be able to enjoy herself when she wants to see/smell outside the vehicle. Are there some dangers? Sure. Can I/will I/do I try to eliminate every, single danger out there at the expense of her and our enjoyment? Nope.
    Go ahead, naysayers – attack my position all you want, but it won’t change. 🐶

    This should ALWAYS have been a concern for anyone with a dog, and political bent has NOTHING to do with it.
    You either care about your dog’s welfare, or you don’t.
    Florida seems to care.

    How about this: poll a large number of Veterinarians to learn about instances of canine misfortunes due to having their heads out a car window.

    Risk is probability times consequences. Sure the consequences of your four legged friend flying out the window can be high, but what really is the probability? With the number of humans, dogs and cars in the world, I would not be surprised if the absolute number is a bit high, but how does it look in terms of percentage?

    And hey, let’s keep in mind that we are talking about an animal that might live 7 years or so, and maybe fewer because it decided to eat roadkill or half a pound of rubber bands. This dream of a risk-free world that people keep chasing churns up some pretty dumb stuff

    Just waiting for legislation that requires a harness for that case of beer or the groceries from the store so people don’t get their melon whacked by a flying watermelon.

    To be honest while you may joke about flying cargo that is a real issue.

    Having been in a major crash once I can say that flying articles and or even a good sized dog or human can do a lot of damage to the others in the car.

    Anymore I try to secure thing so it is no a flying mass to where it will hit me up the back side. A 50 pound dog in the back seat or even a 150 pound human un restrained can become a flying object of 70 mpg if you hit head on or you hit another vehicle.

    I know in my crash the radar detector over my head went forward and smashed the windshield and dash. I was glad it did not come the other way and hit me in the head.

    Another concern is air bags. If you have not eaten an air bag they can do a great deal of damage. I had burns and cuts from the bag and it blew my sunglasses to the back of the cargo area of the vehicle I was driving. Note I did not even hit anything as I was run off the road by a texting driver. My air dam got folded under and when I stopped it popped out and set the bag off.

    Needless to say I reconsider using a tooth pick while driving.

    To be honest we strap our kids in and if you care for your pet you may want to consider the same. Would you let your kids hang out the windows. Think about it. It is not fun looking at a smashed car burned and bleeding and finding you dog dead.

    My dog is smarter than any politician. My dog sticks his head out all the time, I just make sure he can’t get any more of his body out. I think this area of Florida needs somebody to represent them who is concerned more with crime, illegals, fentanyl, and all the nonsense out of DC than dogs in cars.

    Not particularly healthy for a dog to do that. Every rode a motorcycle without a windshield or helmet with a face shield? I live relatively close to a lake and riding a MC like that is begging for a good pelting. It’s like waterskiing in the rain.
    Imagine a good size bug hitting your dog in the eye at 45 mph or going up its nose, etc. Yes, they love riding with their head out the window. No, it’s not good for them.

    Stupid legislation by stupid people for stupid reasons. Surely there are more important issues this Florida senator can deal with?

    The things we find to argue about these days. I do open the window of my car far enough for my beloved Shiba Inu to get her head out but not wide enough for her to jump out while we drive. When it’s cold and I refuse to open it, she will scratch at the window and scream (its a Shiba thing) desperately. It’s like crack for her.
    Flying out the window is really a false risk unless the owner is an idiot. The bigger problem, and one I am concerned about, is getting in an accident and her not being restrained. That does worry me.

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