Let Them Sniff: Why Pulling Your Dog Away Is Doing More Harm Than Good
It can be a major struggle when you’re out with your dog and suddenly their nose hits the ground and they start pulling you along. Our first instinct is to pull them back. Unfortunately, over the course of a dog walk, this results in a sore arm and a less than pleasant stroll.
So what’s the deal? What makes them feel the urge to sniff EVERYTHING?
The truth is you shouldn’t stop your dog from sniffing. But you can totally make walks less of a struggle and keep your dog from pulling your arm out of the socket. Let’s talk about dog noses and why scent is so important to your dog. We also have some tips to make walking less challenging and more fulfilling for both you and your dog.
Seeing Through Scent
For people with unimpaired vision, we experience a lot of the world through sight. It is the sense we rely on the most, and if it is taken away from us, even temporarily, it makes the world confusing and difficult to navigate.
That is how scent works for dogs. An amazing 1/8th of a dog’s brain is devoted entirely to scent. If that doesn’t seem like much, think of it this way, that’s 40% more space than our brains use for interpreting smells. They really do experience the world primarily through what they can smell.
During a typical dog greeting, dogs can determine each other’s sex, age, and health! This is one reason why dogs “mark” during a walk. They’re leaving their scent to let other dogs know they’ve been there, like a calling card, or for some dogs a “No Trespassing” sign.
Sniffing on a walk gives your dog information about the environment. Who’s been there, what’s for dinner, and in some places, potentially dangerous animals in the area. This is why you may notice your dog sniffing more in places you don’t go as often. They’re fairly well acquainted with the scent in their own neighborhood, so new places are a treasure trove of different smells.
Why You Should Let Your Dog Sniff
It can be aggravating when your dog suddenly starts sniffing while you’re enjoying your walk. Take a breath, and remember, this is an important behavior. Sniffing on a walk is an important part of your dog’s mental health.
Sniffing gives your dog a feeling of independence they don’t otherwise have. Sniffing allows your dog to make decisions; like, is a smell interesting, and do they want to investigate it a little more? This gives them a taste of agency and can be calming.
Sniffing helps your dog exercise their brain. Everything that goes into interpreting a scent and determining where it came from helps give your dog mental stimulation. This helps lead to a calmer dog. A short, slow walk with lots of sniffing can actually tire your dog out more quickly than a long walk where they are not allowed to sniff.
Sniffing helps your dog practice socializing with others. If your dog is sniffing the ground around another dog, it means they are showing they are not a threat. Allowing this gives your dog a chance to “practice” typical dog behavior and will help both dogs be more relaxed.
Scent is how dogs communicate. Sniffing is how your dog knows what is happening in the world around them. A dog that is kept from sniffing may have more anxiety since they are not being allowed to experience the world the way they were meant to.
Sniffing On A Walk
Allowing your dog to sniff on a walk doesn’t mean allowing them to drag you down the street. Proper walking manners should be followed. Sniffing can even be used as a reward for your dog following the rules on a walk.
On your regular walks, plan to stick to routes your dog is familiar with. This way, your dog will be acquainted with the scents and will be less inclined to start pulling toward an interesting smell.
You will need to work with your dog to respond to a cue that signals when sniffing time is over and it’s time to walk again. You can work on this using positive reinforcement like praise and treats.
How To Take A Scent Walk With Your Dog
For a special treat, plan a walk that allows your dog to sniff to their heart’s content. This type of walk is known as a scent walk. Your dog can take their time sniffing whatever catches their nose, and your job is to simply follow along.
For scent walks, go someplace new. Try a new walking trail or a part of your neighborhood you’ve never been in. Let your dog take the lead. Don’t let them pull; pulling should never be allowed. Let them take as long as they want to enjoy all of the new smells.
It’s important that you pay attention to your dog while on a scent walk. This isn’t just a walk. It can also be a bonding experience between you and your dog. What does your dog like to sniff? Are they nose to the ground, or do they like to sniff occasionally and then move on? A scent walk is a good chance for you to learn about how your dog experiences the world. So put away your phone and use your eyes while your dog uses their nose.
One of the benefits of regular scent walks is that they lead to a better behaved dog. Since your dog has the opportunity to fully engage their brain and just focus on “being a dog”, they will feel less anxious or bored. A tired, happy dog is less likely to engage in destructive behaviors.
Allowing your dog to sniff, and planning regular scent walks helps enrich your dog’s world. A well-rounded, properly stimulated dog is what you want in a companion. Let your dog live their best life and experience it the way they were meant to. Let your dog sniff.
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