The other day while we (the dogs and I) were out on our morning walk, taking our time, enjoying the world around us, a person walked by and said “all that sniffing is ruining your exercise.”
And it made me think. There are times when we run or bike, and those sniff breaks are pretty much nil. But other times, especially on our morning walks, a great deal of time is spent stopping and smelling the roses.
Now, I let me dogs sniff for a variety of reasons, but then I wondered, I can’t be the only person who has received this comment. And I’m sure there are some who get it and think “you’re probably right!”
So, should you let your dog sniff while walking? Is there harm in allowing your pet to stop and smell each and every lamp post, fire hydrant, and mailbox? Is she ruining the walk by taking a sniff break every few minutes (or seconds)?
Let’s set the record straight.
Should You Let Your Dog Sniff While Walking?
Let’s start strong here: should you let your dog sniff while walking? In almost every situation, yes!! A resounding yes. Unless you’re working on some training (a structured walk, for example), a good walk should include lots of sniffing.
And there are several reasons for that…
1. How They Discover
Your dog is able to garner an incredible amount of information from just a couple sniffs. Sure a tree may just smell like, well, a tree to you, but your dog smells the tree, the sap, the leaves around the tree, and most importantly, that another dog recently passed by the tree, about how long ago it was, the gender of the dog, their mood, and even what they like to eat! It’s her own personal Facebook page!
2. Communication is Key
A lot of the time that your dog is sniffing, she’s looking for the perfect spot to take a bathroom break. Where your dog chooses to go to the bathroom is an important decision. And it’s not just about doing their biz, it’s also about communicating with the world-at-large. Dogs use their urine to signal their presence to other dogs. And in turn, smelling other dogs’ urine tells your dog all about the other pups in her area. Most dogs like to sniff out the places where others have gone to the bathroom so they can go in that same spot, to be ‘top-dog’ if you will. It’s their way of saying “I was here.”
3. Focus and Concentration
Not only is this barrage of information interesting to your dog (they get to catch up on all the canine community gossip) it’s also mentally stimulating. Taking in all those different smells and interpreting the information takes work. Just as you use brain power to solve a difficult problem, your dog uses mental energy when she sniffs. This stimulation is a great way to up the energy-burning power of a walk – mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. Letting your dog sniff while walking is a great way to keep her mentally engaged and to help reduce the risk of early cognitive decline.
4. How They See the World at Large
Chew on this: humans have five or six million scent receptors in our noses, but dogs have up to 300 million! Also, a far larger area of their brain is devoted to their sense of smell, as well as another special organ – Jacobson’s organ – that helps them detect normally undetectable odors like pheromones. These make a dog’s sense of smell at least 10,000 times stronger than yours.
For dogs, that powerful sense of smell is what they use to see the world around them. They’re actually far more reliant on it than even their sight. When a dog stops to smell, it’s the equivalent of us watching out the window as we watch the world go by. Not letting them stiff would be the same as you watching out that window while wearing a blindfold. Not so fun, right?
So, does allowing my dogs to sniff while we’re walking ruin our walk? Not at all. It gives them a chance to take in so much and really enjoy our time together.
Should you let your dog sniff while walking? 100%. Next time you’re tempted to yank on your pup’s leash to stop them from interrupting your walk, stop. As you can see, all that sniffing is important for your dog in many ways. Let them stop and smell the roses (and all those other scents invading their nostrils). It’s good for them, and for you!
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