While walking your dog, how many times do you find yourself impatiently giving a gentle tug on your dogs lead, saying ‘come on’ or ‘this way’ every time your dog stops to sniff? While it is our responsibility to ensure our dogs are properly lead trained and controlled on walks, we must take the time to allow our dogs to stop and sniff – the amount of miles you cover is not always as important as the content of your walk!
A dog’s nose is designed to smell, with millions of olfactory receptors, scent is vital for a dog to understand its environment. The part of a dogs brain dedicated to analysing smells is forty-times greater than ours, so our dogs gain so much information from a smell. Preventing your dog from experiencing the world through scent is like somebody blindfolding you while you walk.
Below are some of the benefits to allowing your dog to sniff:
Mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise, is a vital aspect to our dogs general wellbeing, which can reduce problem behaviours that arise due to excitement, boredom or anxiety. Allowing your dog to stop and sniff on your walks is a great way to engage their brains as they process the smells, providing that much needed mental stimulation that can help calm our energetic dogs! Exercising your dogs mind can help prevent cognitive decline in older dogs, and can prevent young pups from exhibiting excessive chewing due to boredom.
In dogs, scent is processed through the limbic system, which drives emotions and memory and is used to regulate a dogs mood. When allowed to experience their world through smell, anxious dogs are found to exhibit less reactive behaviour as they gather information to enable them to feel confident in their surroundings. By giving our dogs the choice to decide what they want to investigate, we are allowing them to make decisions about their environment, which is a fantastic confidence builder.
Sniffing is an important aspect of canine communication. You may become frustrated that your dog wants to sniff every lamppost or tree, but from that they will receive information from the scent marks of other dogs, such as sex, age, health, whether they are nearby etc.
Maybe your dog constantly tries to sniff the butt of other dogs? For a dog, this is how they obtain information about that dog. Or maybe your dog sniffs the ground around the other dog? This is known as an appeasement behaviour – your dog is basically saying they’re not a threat which can in turn ease tension and help relax both dogs.
Our dogs tend not to have much choice in their lives, they’re told when/what to eat, when they get to exercise, where they are allowed to exercise and sometimes when they’re allowed to toilet. Our dogs have very little control over what happens to them, which has been found to lead to stress and anxiety.
Allowing our dogs to make more choices provides them with a sense of self-reliance and boosts their confidence. When appropriate, we should allow our dogs to make their own decisions. During part of your walks, allow them to make the decision on which way they want to go, and what they’d like to sniff! If you’re short on time, allow your dog to stop and sniff rather than focus on covering distance.