Go Ahead, Let Your Dog Sniff When You're Taking Walks
Dog walks are a fact of life for dog owners. They sure can get tedious, though, as your dog spends seven minutes sniffing a fire hydrant like a hairy, four-legged stereotype. While it’s tempting to give a gentle tug on your pup’s lead to speed things along, or at least sigh really loudly in the hopes that the dog gets the hint. It’s understandable to want to move a bit faster, but according to the experts, letting dogs sniff is an important part of dog life.
Dog noses are designed for smelling. While the human nose has roughly 5 million olfactory receptors, which allow us to differentiate between smells, dogs have millions more. In fact, some breeds (bloodhounds, specifically) have up to 300 million olfactory receptors making scent at least as important as sight for understanding their environment. “Dogs are living in a totally different world than we are, filled with much, much more information than we can possibly process about smell,” Dr. Stanley Coren, a dog psychology expert and author of How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind told Rover.com.. “That’s the way they parse information.” According to the AKC, dog brains are designed to sniff their way through the world. “The smelling section of a dog brain is 40 times larger than ours,” the AKC reports. “In fact, one-eighth of a dog’s brain is dedicated to interpreting odor.”
Letting your dog gather information in the form of smell is important for their mental wellbeing. “Even though we now know that dogs need exercise, that they need socialization, it's taken longer for us to even see that they need to sniff,” Alexandra Horowitz, author of Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell, told PetMD.com.
“Preventing your dog from experiencing the world through scent is like putting a blindfold on a human,” notes the AKC. To add that important element to your dog’s life, Horowitz suggests taking dogs on “smell walks”. That entails just setting out on a walk and letting your dog’s nose be your guide. When your dog stops for a sniff, let the dog smell as long as they like, and move along when they are ready.
It can be tedious, but it’s good for dogs and there’s a benefit for humans, too. “I've found that when dogs are allowed to use their noses, they actually display a lot less ‘misbehavior,’” Horowitz told PetMD.com. She believes that dogs frequently bark and exhibit anxiety and aggressiveness because of lack of information. They can find that information by exploring their world through smell. Plus, it makes them happy. “Besides wearing out a dog who might be anxious or super energetic, it’s good for every dog to use all of their senses and work their brains,” writes Abbie Mood, a dog behavior specialist for Dogster.com.
That being said, you don’t have to let your dog’s nose run the clock every time you go outside. You can let the dog sniff away for a few minutes at the beginning and the end of a walk or dedicate one walk a day as a “smell walk”. However you decide to incorporate sniffing into your walks, go ahead and sigh, but still let your dog stop and smell the roses.