Dog Sniffing A Lot On Walks
You might be feeling like a curious cat, wondering why your dog is sniffing a lot on walks. What if you've got to dash like a dachshund to a doctor's appointment, and you can't wait for your dog to sniff every blade of grass? Or, what if your pup's snout gets contaminated by the dirt on the ground?
Overall, don't fret about anything! Sniffing on walks is doggone awesome for your pup's mental health; to unearth why that's the case, this article will delve into the biology of dogs' noses, the benefits of sniffing, and how to lightly curb the behavior if you've really got to keep a tight schedule!
How Savvy Are Pooch Snouts?
Like a bloodhound tailing a criminal on the trail, let's start solving the mystery of why dogs sniff so much. First, it's handy to step into the paws of pooches, walking a mile in their booties, and understanding how savvy their sense of smell really is!
The truth is that estimates range widely on how powerful dogs' sense of smell is; scouring the internet, you'll discover that some studies claim dogs' sense of smell is 50x more powerful than humans', and others claim it's as much as 100,000x stronger than humans'! In other words, the jury's out when it comes to pinpointing an exact comparison with your nose, and it surely varies among breeds as well. However, suffice it to say that dogs smell their surroundings to paint a picture in their brains. While humans have about 6 million scent receptors, dogs have up to 100 million, bloodhounds specifically have up to 300 million, and up to 30% of their brains are used to analyze those scents floating in the air!
Here's a more everyday example illustrating how sharp pups' noses are. Imagine you're at a farm, and you're taken to a warehouse. Inside the warehouse, the shelves are filled to the brim with 2 million apples. Farmer Fido tells you that every single apple is ripe, except for one! Do you think you'd be able to close your eyes and sniff your way to that lone bad apple? Probably, the answer is no! However, trained pups could carefully sniff the warehouse and likely find that single stale apple!
As the main takeaway here, just know that pups see the world far differently than you or I; in fact, they smell the world, much more than they see the world, and that's a big step in realizing why they sniff so much on dog walks!
How Pup Noses Really Work
If you're not looking to get extra credit in biology, you can probably skip over this dissertation on dog snout anatomy! Though, if you've ever been curious why pups have those slits on the side of their noses, or how they sense pheromones of other dogs, then stay right here!
Nature is pretty neat in how it's evolved different contraptions on pup bodies. If you look closely at your pup's nose, you'll notice that there are slits on the sides of the nose, and you may be wondering what function it serves. Cynologists, scientists who study dogs, have discovered that, when pups exhale, most of the exhaust air exits through those side slits. The prevailing theory is that this allows pups to continue sniffing something, without that exhaust air pushing the incoming scents away; rather, the exhaust air exits through those side slits, allowing the sniffing of the main scent to continue undisturbed!
Another interesting kibble-bit of information is the way in which pups sniff pheromones of other pups. Pheromones are scentless chemicals, secreted to help trigger social responses to members of the same species. For dogs, their pheromone processor is called the Jacobson organ, and it's located in your pup's nasal cavity (behind the upper incisors).
For example, the Jacobson organ helps puppies sense if a lactacting dog is indeed their mother, whether or not nearby dogs are in heat, the gender of other dogs, and if other dogs are in good health. Given that pheromones have no discernible smell, it's neat knowing that noses decipher these "invisible" codes in the air as well!
Should you let your dog sniff on walks?
Especially if you're running late, you might wonder if you should let your pup sniff lots on walks. Given that pups are so scent focused, you've actually got the opportunity to be a "cool mom" or "cool dad" by letting your pup do lots of sniffing, kind of like giving your child a ride to the party!
As some dog trainers remark, taking your pup for walks and not allowing much sniffing is like taking your kids to the movies but having them wear blindfolds! By robbing doggos of their ability to do lots of sniffing, it's actually also a cause for anxiety, since they lack clear senses of their surroundings. On the flip side, by allowing your pup to sniff to her heart's delight, you're faciliating lots of mental stimulation (since their brains are painting pictures like Sherlock Holmes of what happened in a certain grassy area), helping to lower blood pressure, and overall lessening stress levels.
Zen & Nappy Pups
Ever wonder why, even if you venture on long walks, your pup's still pent-up with energy? In that case, know that by allowing your dog to sniff lots, you actually might arrive home with a much calmer dog.
Remember how up to 30% of dogs' brains are devoted to scent analysis? If you think about it, that means lots of energy is expended by pups just from sniffing their surroundings. For example, in humans, despite the brain being just 2% of your body weight, it accounts for about 20% of your energy use! That's why, even though during a 3 hour college exam you're really just sitting at a desk the whole time, you might feel wiped by the end of it! Similarly, for pups, even though they might not cover as much distance during walks with lots of sniffing, the energy expended in analysing those smells means they get quite tired and mentally stimulated in the aftermath.
Managing Your Pup's Sniffing
Even though letting your dog sniff is a great thing to do, you probably don't have all day to let your pup sniff on walks! Therefore, as with any relationship, some compromise is undoubtedly a decent thing; your dog can still smell lots of stuff, and you can still make it home for your video conferencing meetings! Here are a few ideas for managing your pup's aroma adventures.
Take Familiar Walking Trails
First and indeed least (as far as effectiveness goes), you can try going on familiar walking trails. The idea here is, by making certain walking routes a habit, your pup will realize over time what's worth sniffing and what's not worth sniffing. With more of that "been there done that" mentality, perhaps your dog won't spend so much time sniffing every last feature you encounter.
Another idea for lessening the sniffing your pup does is by using commands. Over time, you can train your pup to recognize a verbal command such as "leave it"; our friends at Wag Walking outline some steps for this training remarkably well, and you can read their instructions: here.
As a brief summary, you can sprinkle medium-value treats in a grassy area, lead your dog around the sprinkled treats, and command your pup to "leave it". Then, once your pup removes attention from those medium-value treats, you can reward her with high value treats such as boiled chicken breast! Just to add extra positive reinforcement, be sure to praise the heck out of your dog as they progress with this training!
Sniff Around the House
You can try satisfying your dog’s desire to sniff by creating sniffing challenges for your dog. For example, scatter feeding is a popular activity, where you scatter dry kibble throughout a grassy area, and have your dog to “hunt” for their meal. The American Kennel Club, for example, holds events like Scent Work and Barn Hunt, where dogs search for hidden easter egg-like essential oils.
Go On Short "Scent Walks"
Lastly, you can actually plan to go for “scent walks” with your pup, where your only goal is to be a cool pup parent, letting your dog sniff as much as she wants! Instead of aiming for certain distances or landmarks reached, you can solely set out to let your dog sniff to her heart’s delight. Perhaps you can set time limits of, say, 20 minutes or 30 minutes, allowing your dog’s olfactory senses to delightfully stay stimulated.
Dogs are gifted scent-sensors, using their perceptive pooch snouts to scope out their surroundings. Rather than discouraging sniffing, it’s good for you as the dog walker to facilitate your pup's ability to sniff. If it’s excessive to the point where you can hardly make it 3 blocks away from your home, then you can change your strategy by, for example, going on "scent walks" where your only goal is letting your pup sniff as much as she wants!