The nose knows! Why I let my dogs sniff on walks

by 5 May, 2022

People often get frustrated that their dog is constantly stopping to sniff on walks. Us humans focus on getting from A to B, usually in straight lines and using the shortest route possible. And we want our dogs to do the same. Yes, we can teach our dogs to walk like this. But should we? Well, friends, I don’t only let my dogs stop and sniff on walks; I actively encourage it. The capacity for dogs to detect odours is as much as 100,000 times that of the average human. Dogs effectively ‘see’ through their noses, and their sense of smell is their main mechanism to navigate the world around them. Sniffing, therefore, is one of the most natural behaviours that our dogs can exhibit.

As well as normal and natural, sniffing is a calming and incredibly enriching activity for dogs, and is (conveniently) incompatible with undesirable behaviours such as barking or chasing. My little dog, Kip, can be uncomfortable around other dogs, so I let her sniff as much as she needs to help her relax. My older collie, Limon, has some health problems meaning she isn’t always up for long walks, but still loves a good sniff in the grass. My youngster, Chief, would chase any moving object in sight if he had things his way, so there’s nothing I love more than seeing him stop and sniff on a walk, rather than stalking or scanning! Processing olfactory stimuli is hard work, so after letting them exercise their noses I tend to end up with three tired dogs. It’s a win-win.

I strongly believe that one of the best things we can do for our dogs is to lengthen the leash, slow down, and let them process their environment through their nose. Try getting out that long line and harness, heading to an interesting area, and letting your dog explore. You could even incorporate some ‘search’ games on your walks, by hiding food or toys for your dogs to find. I promise, it will do wonders for your dog’s behavioural wellbeing!

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