Why It's Important to Let Your Dog Sniff on Walks 

March 31, 2022

Why It's Important to Let Your Dog Sniff on Walks 

Is your canine companion sniffing around a little too much while walking? 

When most pet parents take their pups for a walk, they have one objective in mind: exercise. Because these activities are vital for optimal dog health, restricting your puppies to only walking and going to the bathroom misses out on a key aspect of their lives and experience: stimulating your dog's sense of scent.

Our dogs experience the world primarily through scent. Allowing them to interact with their environment through their nose is often an overlooked processing skill. 

About Your Dog's Nose 

Your pooch's nose is intended to sniff.  A dog's sense of smell is nearly ten times stronger than a human's. Dogs not only have hundreds of millions of smell sensors compared to our six million, but they can also dedicate 40 times more brain capacity to processing odors than humans do. 

This means that dogs can interpret smells in ways that humans cannot. 

Dogs use their sense of smell to gather context of their surroundings, which includes the specific signature of other creatures that have crossed that way before them, as well as abstract factors like the passage of time or upcoming weather changes. 

The Need for a Dog to Smell Is Easily Overlooked 

Humans don't experience the world through an olfactory lens: we not only cannot detect everything that a dog can, but we are also not as interested in scents. 

Even while we now know that dogs require exercise and socializing, it has taken us longer to recognize that they require sniffing. 

Dogs can be trained to detect explosives, bedbugs, and fugitives. They can track endangered species across land, air, and water. They're truly impressive animals with remarkable skills. The extent of their skills is almost incomprehensible, which makes the unintentional ways in which we prevent our dogs from sniffing all the more regrettable.  

Sniffing is a Hobby for Dogs 

Smelling isn't simply our dog's best skill. It's also one of their most widely liked pastimes, not to mention a vital part of dog health.

Certain dog breeds prefer or detest different hobbies. A Saint Bernard would not like daily frisbee games, while an Italian Greyhound might not want to go swimming with you. An Anatolian Shepherd definitely doesn't need to greet dozens of people at the farmers market every weekend, and a Belgian Malinois isn't a lapdog.

This is why it's critical to make sure your dog is a good fit for your lifestyle before getting it, whether from a shelter or a breeder.

How to Go on a Scent Walk 

Taking your dog for a "scent walk" or "smell walk" is the best way to engage your dog's scenting skills. 

Dog walking focused on smell shifts the objective from distance walked to smell registered. This form of dog walking requires a shift in thinking for most pet caregivers. Instead of a set destination, the scent walk route wanders aimlessly as your dog soaks up and processes the smells along the way.

It's simple to go on a smell stroll. Just go along the trail, and when your dog pauses for a sniff, let them. Put aside your phone to pay attention to your dog if you want to be truly involved. 

A smell walk will also likely provide you with new insights about your dog's behavior. Is your dog a sniffer on the go, eager to absorb as many odors as possible? Or does your dog hunch down and concentrate on intensely sniffing one location?

Allow your dog to choose the course and the length of time she spends on each smell while you walk, but keep leash etiquette in mind and don't let your dog pull you along. 

Dog to Dog Communication 

Remember that smelling is an important component of dog health and how your dog communicates. You may be annoyed if your dog wants to smell every lamppost on the street, but they are typically only looking for the scent markings of another dog in the area. 

These odors will enable them to determine if the dog is male or female, whether it is one they are familiar with, and whether they are in the immediate proximity or not.

Owners may be embarrassed if their dog instinctively sniffs another dog's butt when they first meet. For a dog, though, this is similar to an evaluative handshake. They are becoming acquainted with the other dog's particular odor.   

The Perks of Scent Walks  

When dogs are allowed to use their noses, they display far less 'misbehavior.' If they're allowed to smell, it's as if the thing they've chosen to do as their "job," such as barking at every oncoming dog or being constantly vigilant (and concerned) about where you are, will be replaced with this more natural activity. In other words, it makes people happy.

Not many pet parents, however, have the time to devote to nose-to-the-ground walks. However, not every walk you go on with your dog has to be a sniff stroll.

More than Just a Walk 

There are additional stimulating activities that you could explore if your dog likes exercising its nose, in addition to providing your dog with more opportunity to smell when on normal walks.

Hunting for Food

Scattering dry food or treats over a safe, non-distracting grassy area and then letting your dog come out and naturally scavenge for the food may be a cheap and simple method to provide extra enrichment for your dog.

This is a good pastime for less mobile dogs on limited exercise, and it may also be a useful technique for helping fearful dogs feel more comfortable and confident.

On a wet day, you may still engage in this type of activity on a smaller scale by using a snuffle mat indoors. These are often rubber mats with felt "grass" threads woven through them, and you can hide your dog's food or goodies in them for him to sniff. 

Classes for Scent Work 

A nose work class of some kind may be worth exploring if you want a more organized learning setting to harness your dog's scenting ability. This will not only improve your dog's skills, but it will also enhance your friendship.

Your pup will be trained to recognize a certain smell and will learn how to discover it and inform its handler of the location where it has been placed.

So, the next time you're out on a stroll with your dog, don't become frustrated when they want to stop and smell; embrace it, and you could well find yourself with a happy dog as a result. 

Conclusion

Even the best pet parents can't accommodate sniff-filled dog walking every day. Do your dog a favor and focus on mental enrichment instead of distance traveled. Depending on your dog's abilities, a 15-minute walk won't do much to tire them out physically. The same amount of time spent sniffing will satisfy their need for mental enrichment.  

So, next time you are out on a walk with your dog, don't get impatient when they want to stop and sniff that bit more closely.

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