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Let them
sniff


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Let them sniff- getting the most out of your dog walk (c) 2009-2019 Frania
Shelley-Grielen, all rights reserved  

We New Yorkers (please name your town here) just love our dogs- we feed
them the best food, buy all the greatest  toys for chewing and squeaking, have
them groomed at the best groomers, keep all our vet appointments, arrange
for play dates in dog parks or day cares and without back yards (at least for
most of us), we are the experts at the art of the dog walk.   Or are we?  

The dog walk is more than just an opportunity for elimination.  All dogs, city
dog or country dog, need the time and opportunity to sniff around as much as
possible in order to properly “see” what is happening in their surroundings
on a walk.  As John Bradshaw writes in DOG SENSE: “Smells are very
important to dogs, much more than they are to us.  Dogs don’t just use odor to
decide what to eat or not: It’s their primary way of identifying people, places
and other dogs.  Smell is their dominant sense, the one they use in preference
to all their other senses, whenever they can.”   A dog’s sensitivity to odors is
10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than our own.  Keeping your dog
from sniffing it all in when outside, with all there is to smell out there, is like
you crossing the street practically blindfolded.

Dogs are built for “smell-o-vision,” from an olfactory cortex (that part of the
brain that scrutinizes odors) which is 40 times greater than ours, to a hundred
times more nerves than our own, linking the brain to the area of the dog’s
nose that detects odors.  And it is this very highly specialized nose that we
are depriving of all this incredibly informative odor when we prevent our
dogs from sniffing around on a walk.  Being able to use their primary sense
is intrinsically rewarding for dogs, it’s how their made.  Watch a dog getting
the chance to smell to see how absorbed, focused and content they appear.

Getting the chance to properly sniff is more than just a luxury in perception.  
Peter L. Borchelt, an animal behaviorist practicing in metropolitan New York,
made an observation during a lecture I attended, that being allowed to sniff
was in fact, an almost athletic activity for your dog.  Dr. Borchelt said that a
good walk (backyards only don’t count here) with sufficient sniffing
opportunities is a chance to allow your active, apartment or house bound
hound a proper chance to expend the right amount of energy to return home
properly tired from canine efforts.  Make sure to vary your routes on walks to
allow your dog the chance to discover new smells left behind, finding
information or reading the “pee mail” from other dogs is important and
cannot be beat for encouraging elimination in return.   Please include walks
for dogs with their own backyards to sniff around – they know most of the
smells in their garden already, give them more to explore.

Sniffing around can also lessen stress and give a dog a greater sense of
optimism.  And who doesn’t want that for their pup?  Studies tell us that
allowing shelter dogs olfactory enrichment (things to sniff they might like)
lessens those behaviors associated with stress. And a 2019 study comparing
dogs practicing activities where they get to use their noses to find scents or
food independently (“nosework”) with dogs practicing physical exercises
keeping in step with their owner (“heelwork”) where both groups were given
food rewards for completing the exercises found the nosework dogs
outperforming the heelwork dogs on a cognitive bias test designed to measure
optimism.  The researchers also noted that nosework offers a chance to
work autonomously and exercise choice and control over their actions
while indulging in a naturally satisfying activity.

Take a look at how our dog walking stacks up on your next walk.  Here are a
few things to watch for to start with:  Are we yanking a dog without any signal
or warning from a lamppost or street sign just as it gets interesting?  Or are
we not even looking or paying attention and not noticing that our dog has
started to sniff and yanked them away before they can complete a breath in?  
Do we think dogs are people and a good butt sniff means something other
than getting to know the dog being sniffed?  Or even worse are we putting
choke chains, prong collars and head halters on our dogs to inhibit any
sniffing along with other natural behaviors? (While dogs may pull and choke
against prongs and chokes and theoretically avoid the constraint by not
pulling,
the head halter offers no relief, placed high on the muzzle around
the sensitive eye area often resulting in visible drooping and slinking and
needs to be added to what not to use on our dogs.)

The good news is that making time for sniffing including finding and
exploring new and varied routes to sniff along not only allows a dog to
adequately “see” the world, sniffing is exercise for your dog’s brain that feels
good, lessens stress and makes them happy.  Processing all that information is
a lot of work.  It is as equally important for the dog to have something
mentally satisfying to do as is for the dog to have something physically
satisfying to do.  Try it out and see how much calmer and happier your dog
will start to appear.  Letting your dog sniff his or her way around the block
opens up a whole new world for you both.

References

Bradshaw, J. (2011) Dog Sense (p. 242)  New York:  Basic Books

Duranton, C., Horowitz, A. (2019). Let me sniff!  Nosework includes positive judgment bias in pet dogs .
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, (211) 61-66

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copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"The dog walk is more than just
an opportunity for elimination.  
All dogs, city dog or country
dog, need the time and opport-
unity to sniff around as much as
possible in order to properly
“see” what is happening in their
surroundings on a walk.  As
John Bradshaw writes in DOG
SENSE: “Smells are very
important to dogs, much
more than they are to us.  
Dogs don’t just use odor to
decide what to eat or not: It’s
their primary way of identifying
people, places and other dogs.  
Smell is their dominant sense,
the one they use in preference
to all their other senses,
whenever they can.”   A dog’s
sensitivity to odors is 10,000
to 100,000 times more sensitive
than our own.  Keeping your
dog from sniffing it all in when
outside, with all there is to smell
out there, is like you crossing
the street practically blindfolded."
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