You’ve probably seen your dog with his furry head hanging out of your car window, ears flapping, and tongue flying in the wind. And if you’ve left your window closed, he’s likely left behind wet-nose kissed prints, too. Dogs love looking out the window — but why?
Dogs are often seen looking out the window because it is a source of external stimuli. Dogs, like humans, enjoy the outdoors, despite spending much of their time inside. Seeing people, animals, cars, or anything else that piques his interest stimulates your dog’s senses and supports environmental enrichment, distraction, and entertainment.
Continue reading to learn more about why your dog loves looking out the window and what to do about other behaviors that may coincide with his love for window gazing.
Dogs and Their Unique Behaviors
Dogs are direct descendants of grey wolves, and, over time, domestication resulted in both physical changes and behavioral ones (source). In other words, your now indoor dog’s ancestors spent most, if not all, of their time frolicking in the wilderness.
Could that be one reason your dog looks longingly out of the window? Quite possibly. But there are other reasons for this unique behavior, and one of them is due purely to a physiological need for external stimuli, sometimes termed “environmental enrichment.”
Environmental Enrichment in Dogs
Environmental enrichment is defined as a process of manipulating an animal’s environment to both increase physical activity and satisfy a natural physiological or psychological need (source).
We often take our dogs outdoors to satisfy this need, though there are also other ways to do so, including food-based enrichment, playing with toys, and even positive reinforcement training methods.
But for many dogs, they are captive creatures, spending a disproportionate amount of time indoors. It is not that this is an inherently bad thing — dogs love snuggling next to their owners, and a soft spot on your bed is a far more comfortable place to nap than the cold, hard ground.
Still, dogs need enrichment, and if they are spending too much time inside, you may find them gazing out of the window longingly, hoping for some source of distraction or entertainment, especially if you are not home.
Additionally, dogs are not much different than humans when it comes to the importance of fresh air and sunlight. When people spend too much time inside, we can easily become bored, sluggish, frustrated with our surroundings, or even depressed. The same is true for dogs.
If you notice that your dog is spending an inordinate amount of quiet time by the window, he may be doing so simply as a way to distract himself from boredom, but he may also need to get outside for some environmental enrichment.
If you are home and you can take him outside for a quick moment of play, do so. Otherwise, let him enjoy the outdoors from behind the window as he dreams about catching the squirrels racing past him.
To learn more about how much you should take your dog outside, take a look at “How Often Should I Take My Dog Out?”
Dogs and Car Windows: Engaging All of His Senses
Another consideration when it comes to dogs and windows is your car window. You’ve no doubt seen cars passing by with a canine companion in the passenger seat, head hanging out of the window. Most dogs love to do this, and there’s nothing quite like feeling a warm summer breeze while driving down the highway.
However, it is important to mention that this may not be the safest place for your dog in the car. Still, keeping him in the back seat using a seatbelt made specifically for dogs doesn’t mean he cannot enjoy the breeze. Even rolling down the window partially can fulfill his need for external stimulation through his senses.
A dog’s nose has something called an olfactory bulb — humans have one, too, but a dog’s olfactory bulb is about forty times larger (source).
While humans are more wired to depend on sight, a dog’s brain is dominated by the olfactory cortex of his brain. It allows him to process smells, with somewhere close to 220 million scent receptors in that tiny little nose.
So, if you think about why he loves having the window rolled down, it is because he is engaging with all of his senses, particularly his nose, and this, in and of itself, provides him quite a lot of environmental enrichment and stimulation.
Window Gazing and Undesirable Behaviors
While we know dogs enjoy looking out the window, for some, it can be more of a problem behavior, especially if looking out the window causes him to bark or show signs of aggression toward those passing by. Barking, however, is not indicative of aggression unless coupled with other behaviors that indicate a problem.
Your dog is able to see clearly about 20 feet in front of him (source). When he sees people or other dogs passing by, he probably feels the need to let you know that there is something (or someone) outside.
He may also simply be responding to what he sees with a desire to interact. But some dogs experience frustration when what they see is not something that they can attain — again, a characteristic not too far off from what humans experience.
If looking out of the window seems to be disruptive to either your dog or yourself, you can try to limit the time he spends at the window or keep the blinds closed.
Still, try to take him outside frequently to expend some of his energy or utilize positive reinforcement training methods to help him feel more relaxed when he sees strangers passing by.
Another option is to simply distract him with something else — either a treat or his favorite toy. If it is the mailman causing distress, for example, you can try to anticipate his arrival and be ready with a treat for your dog as you teach him how to stay calm when he sees a stranger outside.
It is clear that dogs love looking out the window, and there are a few reasons why they enjoy it so much, including entertainment, stimulation, and a desire to be — and see — outside. Dogs have incredibly strong senses, and they love interacting with their environment, whether chasing animals, smelling the world, or simply engaging in play.
Let your dog enjoy his world, both inside and outside, as much as you can. If you notice that window gazing becomes a problem, reach out to your veterinarian or a certified trainer for help. But for the most part, looking out of the window is simply a new space for your dog to engage with his world.