Dogs live in a sensory world and use their noses to receive important information about their environment through sniffing. Sniffing is mentally stimulating and leaves them with a “feel good” factor and helps reduce stress. Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about 6 million in ours. So, you can understand why sniffing is so critical in their daily life. Also, just as a comparison, the part of the dog’s brain that processes smell is proportionally about 40 times bigger than ours, so yes, sniffing is that important for dogs.
The olfactory nerves are connected to the limbic system which is the part of the brain where emotions are processed. Allowing your dog opportunities to sniff on walks gets him moving and exploring his environment. This gives him a great physical and mental workout and boosts “happy hormones”. More sniffing opportunities on walks means a happier dog as the dopamine levels increase in his brain and body.
So, stop and take the time to let your dog sniff on walks. It gives him an opportunity to find out more information about his environment. Don’t pull your dog on a lead for sniffing, that’s like covering someone’s eyes throughout a movie- not fair!!
Resident animal behaviourist, Nicole Nel – DipCABT (NOCN UK), Cert CAB, CAPBT SA Member
You can also mix up your walk schedule to encourage different routes for different smells for added stimulation and add more decompression walks to their routine. A decompression walk means more walks in nature where your dog can relax, decompress and explore his natural environment with his nose. It’s a great way to reduce stress for him too. You’ll find that most dogs aren’t as relaxed doing city walks or walks where dogs bark at them from behind gates or traffic nearby. So, where possible get away from these triggers and into more natural environments. In on-leash areas and for safety purposes, use a longer lead (a long-line (3m/5m)) so he feels he can explore with his nose, yet is safely leashed and with you at all times.
If you’re too far from nature, find a grassy trail or a grass area and scatter treats on the ground for him to find through scenting. A tree-lined verge can also be a great place to let him “read” the local news. If that’s also not possible in your area or too far for you, take him for a walk at a quieter time of the day to let him explore his neighbourhood without lots of noise and distractions. A change in the environment gives him the opportunity to engage with his world and enriches his life. Even taking a handful of his dog pellets or treats and scattering them into his immediate environment can help keep his nose and brain stimulated.
On your next scheduled walk, try a quieter route, a grassier path, or a field where there aren’t a ton of distractions like traffic and suburban stressors. Let him explore his environment with his nose. Let your dog read every “pee-mail”, let him smell every flower, sniff the grass or the pathways and if he wants to stand and “read all about it” on the local lamp post for several minutes, let him. After all, it is his walk.