Have you ever wondered, “should I let my dog sniff on walks”?
It seems to be that, as a society, we’ve come to appreciate when a dog walks a certain way. And that “certain way” tends to be nicely beside us, trotting along at a steady pace. Sniffing on walks has become a behaviour that many pet parents try to discourage.
But are we doing our animals a disservice by shuffling them along and not allowing them to sniff to their heart’s content?
It might seem odd, but our dogs’ noses play a big role in overall health and wellness…
Your Dog’s Nose
Maybe you’ve heard the quote “a dog would be able to sniff out a single drop of blood from an area as large as an Olympic-sized swimming pool?” It’s a common one because of how powerful a dog’s nose really is. Or consider why dogs are such important members of emergency search and rescue teams, or why they’re relied upon for jobs like airport security or with police investigations. It’s all thanks to that sniffer!
Your dog’s nose has more than 200 million scent receptors. You have 6 million. That’s a heck of a difference. Plus, dogs sniff 5 to 10 times a second, which we only do once every 1.5 seconds. Those 2 facts alone tell you just how impressive that snout is.
For a dog, that sense of smell isn’t just used to, well, smell. It’s used to explore, to investigate, to communicate, and evaluate. The amount of data your dog can take in just by sniffing is incredible. When your dog smells a tree for example, they smell the tree, the sap, the leaves around the tree, the other dogs who recently passed by the tree, how long ago those dogs were there, the gender of the dogs, their moods, and even what they like to eat!
I think I’ve made my point here… your dog’s nose is amazing.
But you may still be asking yourself, “should I let my dog sniff on walks?” Let’s take a look.
Should I Let My Dog Sniff on Walks?
We’ve all done it. We’re walking along, and our dog stops to sniff, moves 10 feet, then stops to sniff again. The urge to tug them along can be a strong one, and we often succumb to it.
The thing is, this behaviour is about far more than checking out a scent (or attempting to annoy you). All that sniffing is actually really, really good for your dog’s health!
For one thing, as mentioned, your dog takes in a ton of information when they sniff. And not only is this information interesting to your dog, it’s also mentally stimulating. Taking in the scents around them and then interpreting those smells takes a lot of brain power. It’s like solving a difficult math equation. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise, and letting your dog sniff on a walk is a great way to keep them mentally engaged.
Both long and short term, this mental stimulation alone is so good for your canine companion. Not only can it help relieve boredom and stress short term, long term it supports brain health, which can help reduce the risk of early cognitive decline.
Sniffing can also help reduce anxiety and make your pup feel better. Some dogs can become over-stimulated when they do high energy level activities, but allowing your dog to engage in natural sniffing behaviour is a calm and generally relaxing option.
And research proves this. A study on nosework found that allowing dogs to spend more time sniffing makes them more optimistic. By allowing dogs more “foraging” time, their welfare is improved. Another study on sniffing and heart rate found that the more dogs sniffed on a walk, and the more intense the sniffing, the lower the pulse rate. Clearly, more sniffing equals a calmer, happier dog.
Ok, so sniffing is definitely in!
Have you ever heard the term sniffari? No, that’s not a typo. It’s a term that refers to a specific type of dog walk.
And it’s one that is led by your pup’s nose.
Instead of walking with your dog right beside you, on a short lead, and not letting them sniff, consider switching things up:
- go to a hiking trail, an open field, or even just a different neighbourhood
- when it’s safe, and if you’re comfortable with it, allow your dog to wander off leash
- use a long (not retractable) line in a safe area to allow more length for exploring
- switch up your walking route so your dog can experience new smells
- when you get to a crossroad, let your dog tap into their freewill and choose the route ahead
Sniffaris can be a great way to bond with your dog – but you have to be present too! Actually, that’s great advice for any walk. Leave your cell phone at home, and engage with your pup while you walk. Talk to them, and point out things you think they might be interested in.
When you’re walking, as the saying goes, stop and smell the roses. There really is such an immense benefit in allowing your dog to be a dog and do what they naturally feel is right. And the same goes for you. Take in the environment around you – most of us tend to take it for granted, but the world holds so much beauty and we can all benefit from it.
So, if you’ve ever questioned yourself, and thought “should I let my dog sniff on walks,” the answer is a resounding yes. By giving our adored beasts the ability to engage that natural instinct and take in the world around them, we are not only promoting their mental health, but their physical health as well. So, let your dog stop and smell the roses, and the grasses, and the trees, and the rocks… you get the picture. And don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way. 💚