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Sniffy Walk

The nose knows

Once upon a time, I was that person who would walk my dogs and get upset if they tried to go off and sniff everything in sight. I was constantly pulling on the leashes in an effort to rein them in for a perfect heel. I was envious of the people who would walk by me with their dogs obediently by their side, focused solely on walking. I was frustrated, my dogs were frustrated, and as soon as we finished our walks, they would run circles around the backyard like they had busted out of prison. They had what I like to call the zoomies, an explosion of pent-up energy.

Not long ago, I learned that walking my dogs in that manner may be harmful to the mental health and well-being of my dogs. While having your dog walk in the heel position is perfectly fine, never allowing them to explore their environment is not. Allowing your dog to use their nose on a walk has many benefits; it builds new neurons in the brain that increases cognitive function, provides mental exercise or stimulation, reduces stress, lowers heart rate, and releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone. This type of walk goes by many names, sniffy walk, sensory walk, sniffari, smelly walks, decompression walks, and scent walks. I am sure there are many other names, but I will refer to it here as a sniffy walk; feel free to call it what you like. Whatever you call it, know that your dog will love the enrichment activity. They love to use their natural ability to smell the world around them. There’s so much information floating around that we cannot even comprehend.

When your dog goes on a sniffy walk, it becomes an opportunity for them to take the lead on their own adventures. Dogs gather a wealth of information with just their nose, similar to how we collect data with our eyes. When we go for a walk, we observe our environment, noticing details, like changes in the landscape or the color of flowers, where cars are parked, or any little minute detail. Sometimes we communicate with another person, someone walking with us, or someone we stop to chat with. A sniffy walk for your dog is, in a way, their version of social media. A dog’s nose is his smartphone, which he uses to communicate, evaluate and explore his surroundings. He can read his pee-mail or tweets on the trees and gather information about who stopped by, their age, sex, mood, health, and diet. He will leave his own tweet behind for another dog to read and study. There’s a reason dogs are used for detection work, their superior sense of smell. Fun fact: elephants have the sharpest sense of smell in the entire animal kingdom, twice that of dogs, but could you imagine trying to use them in detection work??

It amazes me how a dog can separate individual elements of an odor. It is their superpower. They can smell 10,000-1000,000 times better than humans. Did you know dogs can sniff in stereo? They can breathe out with one nostril and in with the other simultaneously. As they do this, they process smells and can remember each one. A dog will sniff 5-10 times a second, while humans sniff once every 1.5 seconds. A canine snoot can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in 1,320,200 gallons of water or the equivalent of 2 Olympic swimming pools. I could go on and on about the power of a dog’s nose, but I’ll save that for another day.

So, you might be asking, how and what do I need to go on a sniffy walk? It’s easy, and you don’t need any special equipment, just a harness/collar and leash, which I hope you already own. There is no wrong way to do a sniffy walk. You can take your do for a slow walk in a field, trail, or wherever you feel like going and let your dog lead. Don’t rush him. Allow him all the time he wants to sniff and explore. Of course, watch out that he doesn’t try to eat anything toxic. Distance does not matter. Go slow. Twenty minutes of sniffy walking is equal to 60 minutes of regular walking. Allowing ample time to sniff will help your dog to be emotionally and physically satisfied.

If you find your dog is not interested in a sniffy walk, make sure he is not stressed or overstimulated. Give him time to decompress or take him somewhere he finds less stressful. Also, keep your dog hydrated, as a dehydrated dog cannot sniff well.

So now that we know sniffy walks benefit our dogs do not make every walk a sniffy walk. Your dog still needs exercise and to practice leash skills, both of which are important. Aim for 70 percent walking for exercise or a structured walk and 30 percent of the time allowing them to sniff, sniff, sniff, and sniff some more.

Remember to take time to smell the flowers..

Written by Louisa Redman


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