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To sniff or not to sniff

To sniff or not to sniff

Sometimes i have clients who ask for advice on how to fix one very specific issue. Their dog sniffs too much when out on a walk. They are constantly stopping and spending too much time checking out bushes, trees, lamp posts, walls or quite simply the floor.

It restricts the flow of the walk and most owners would like their dog to just stop doing it.

Guess what my answer to this is: Let your dog sniff.

My dog just sniffs everything, their Obsessed

To us having a dog that is obsessively sniffing everything in their path can be boring, pointless and at times it can be even frustrating.

But: Allowing your dog to use their nose and the calming effects that come with sniffing is really important.

There are some breeds that are more likely to obsessively sniff than others like some Terriers, Bloodhounds and Beagles, who love to sniff. Dogs who are nervous or anxious have a tendency to sniff quite intensely.

Let’s take a look at the benefits that come with sniffing!

Sniffing is the canine superpower

A lot of people don’t realise just how much information a dog can take in through sniffing. Sadly this isn’t something we’ll be ever able to experience for ourselves, so all we have is abstract knowledge of their high level ability to smell.

A dogs sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times better than our own sense of smell. They are able to detect some scents in parts per trillion. So basically that means in numbers, that they can notice 1 particle in 1,000,000,000,000 other particles.

To understand this better, the area of the UK is 242.50K km² . Being able to pick out one in a trillion parts would mean being able to pinpoint a 10ft x 10ft square out of the entire surface of the United Kingdom.

One in a trillion parts is half a cube of sugar in an Olympic sized swimming pool.

We use the unbelievable power of the dogs nose in many different ways. From dogs who do Search and Rescue, saving victims that otherwise would have been lost, dogs that do drug detection, service dogs who can alert their owners before they have a seizure by smelling the chemical changes in the owners body.

The international dog hobby, Sniffing!

Sniffing isn’t just the dog’s greatest power. It is also one of their most enjoyed past-times.

When it comes to different activities, some will either like or dislike the activity depending on the breed of dog. A Saint Bernard may not be that enthusiastic about playing Frisbee on a daily basis and the Italian Greyhound may not be too happy about going for a swim in a cold river with you.

Now the Anatolian Shepherd probably doesn’t need to go to a busy town centre market and greet lots of people every weekend, whilst the Belgian Malinois is certainly not a lap dog.

Before you decide to take on a dog it is really important that you make sure your dog is going to fit your own lifestyle, whether its through a rescue or from a breeder. Picking a breed of dog that has similar ideas for fun as you have will certainly make your life together a lot easier and more happier.

However, all breeds, from tiny to giant, energetic or distant, they all have one thing in common: They all love to sniff.

When it comes to dogs using their noses to sniff, they definitely don’t need any encouragement. Puppies sniff as soon as they start to walk, and dogs who are in their senior years still do it even when they can hardly do anything else. Sniffing is as natural as it is walking.

It’s rare for any dog to get fed up of sniffing. They love it, day in, day out, multiple times a day. The continual flow of information keeps them extremely interested. It is really hard for us to actually appreciate this with our below average noses!

The mental self care package for dogs

With dogs, sniffing is also used as a calming signal. Two friendly dogs who meet each other may indicate that they do not want anything to escalate the situation by automatically sniffing. If a dog is feeling anxious during a training situation, then they might turn away and start to sniff the ground, much to the surprise of the owner.

Dogs don’t just say to each other that they are amicable by sniffing, but they do sniff to help calm themselves down. If the dog feels nervous they may suddenly show an interest in the ground that’s in front of them. It is a built-in technique that helps them to relax.

Sniffing for just a few minutes, helps to lower your dog’s heart rate. It is the canine equivalent of deep breathing.

Sniffing to improve problem behaviours

Whatever your dogs temperament, all dogs benefit from being allowed to sniff.

Dogs who are highly energetic

Do you have a dog that’s absolutely bonkers crazy that is full of energy? Perhaps a young adolescent or a working breed that will go all day long? If your dog’s nose is on the ground sniffing then they can’t jump and bounce about at the same time. The Ones who are a little bit crazy will often charge straight into a situation and try and sort out every issue by being speedy, noisy and strong. These dogs have learnt that to get exactly what they want, then they need to give it everything, meaning they go in strong and forceful. With sniffing this doesn’t work. Sniffing gets your dog to focus mentally and physically quietens them down. They cannot just try and do something by being crazy and doing it at 100mph. They can only obtain information from sniffing if they are slow, calm and concentrated.

Dogs who are anxious and shy

Is your dog fearful or anxious? Maybe they hide in their bed or even get spooked and run off easily? Sniffing can help them to feel more confident within the environment. Allowing nervous dogs to sniff on their walks helps them to relax, particularly over time. If you walk the same routes everyday and your dog is allowed to sniff as much as they wish, then they will be more and more comfortable and will start to feel more in control. Dogs who are fearful feel uncertain and the more unknown or unfamiliar a situation is, the less confident the dog will be. By allowing them to get to know their environment better through sniffing you allow them to build up a sense of security as well as their confidence. Some owners who have fearful or reactive dogs tend to walk the same routes with them every day with as much sniffing as the dog desires. Then, as soon as the dogs are happy and not showing signs of being nervous any more, they can then start to vary their routes by a small bit each day. Slowly introducing them to new routes will slowly gets them used to more and more new places whilst they are feeling calm.

Dogs who are distracted

If your dog gets distracted during training, it can help to arrive a bit earlier to your training class and just have a walk around and let your dog sniff everything. This is not general advice and if you feel like it makes your dog inclined to sniff more during group lessons, then you’ll need to stop. Sniffing whilst training isn’t advisable and needs to be kept to a minimum. But saying that, for some dogs, checking out the training environment with their nose allows them to concentrate on learning after they’re done. If it’s possible to let your dog investigate before class, then give it a try!

Sniffing experiences options for your dog

Sniffing walks

Sniffing on walks is really enjoyable for dogs. Most dogs love at least one long sniff walks a day These are a lot different from going running and playing walks, with sniffing walks the dog wears a lead and you just walk along a path where many other dogs have walked along too, so there is lot’s to sniff! This could be a nice thing to do at the end of the day, maybe when you come home from work and you just want to unwind. You can listen to music, wander along and let your dog sniff.

Scatter feeding

If you have a garden and you feed your dogs food in their bowl, try scatter feeding instead. This works best with feed biscuits, it’s not really ideal using wet or raw food. Use your dogs dry food and scatter it throughout your garden. Don’t be tight and just place it all in one small area. Really distribute it well! Your dog will spend quite a while sniffing and finding their food, they’ll be relaxed and tired once done. If you are pushed for time in the morning before work to exercise your dog, then scatter feeding is a fantastic way to let them work for their breakfast.

Note: If you have more than one dog, you only let them scatter feed together if you are 100% sure that they won’t squabble with each other over the food. Never scatter feed and allow them to be together unsupervised, no matter how much you trust them.

Man Trailing

Man trailing is a very engaging and fun dog sport in which the dog learns to find someone who is lost. Man Trailing has become really popular in the UK. This is done outdoors and the dog learns to find the hidden person by their scent, but also they do this whilst they ignore various distractions and other scents right from the word go.


Why do puppies sniff as much as they do?

Puppies sniff a lot because they are exploring the big wide world through their nose. Just like children they are always experimenting, creating new experiences and building their knowledge about the world. Already young puppies show an interest in sniffing the areas where other dogs have taken a pee, even though at this age they do not yet mark themselves. A lot of puppies will stop sniffing once they reach adolescence at around 5-10 months of age. When they hit this teenage stage, they often want to run and be crazy, rather than being calm sniffing. Once they get to the adult stage however, they usually go back to wanting to sniff extensively.

To recap

To sum it up, allow your dog sniff. Unless its when your training. A dogs sense of smell is exceptionally advanced and they get a hell of a lot of information just from sniffing. Sniffing is naturally calming and your dog will certainly feel great after a long walk just sniffing, and the bonus thing for is they are relaxing as well as low impact exercise. Now happy sniffing and go and have fun!

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