No matter how well-trained your dog is, there will inevitably be times on your walks where your dog will stop to smell the roses. While they’re at it, they’ll probably also smell the grass, the concrete, the trees, the stop signs, and every fire hydrant along the way. At times, it may seem like your dog is standing around and sniffing at nothing at all.
When humans go for a walk, they are generally aiming for exercise, overall distance, and consistent pace. Dogs don’t worry about these things when they walk. Although they enjoy the exercise, there are many other interesting and valuable aspects of being outside in unfamiliar territory. Here are some reasons why your dog likes to smell everything on its walks, and what you can do to get the most out of going for a walk with your dog.
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The Root of the Behavior
Dogs do not rely on their eyesight the same way that humans do. While they can see clearly up close and judge distances fairly well, their sense of sight is nowhere near as keen as their sense of smell. A dog’s sense of smell is its most powerful resource and its primary mode of investigating and understanding the world around it. The human nose pales in comparison; a dog’s nose can detect scents between 10,000 and 100,000 times more effectively. Due to this significant disparity in abilities, humans are essentially blind to a dog’s world, which is made up of hundreds and thousands of interesting, unique, and informative scents.
Understanding the way in which dogs collect and process scents is important in understanding why they stop to smell everything on walks. Like humans, dogs don’t always catch a scent on the first whiff. They will sometimes need to repeatedly smell something in order to gather all the necessary information about it. Unlike humans, dogs can capture smells by repeatedly inhaling. When humans breathe, all scents pass through the nose and into the lungs, where they are then expelled. When dogs take in a scent, part of the scent is transported to a separate area of their bodies specifically designed to trap and examine odors. Additionally, dogs have a special organ that can detect pheromones and chemical scents considered completely undetectable to the human nose.
Whenever your dog is out for a walk, whether in familiar or unfamiliar territory, it is processing hundreds of scents that are completely invisible to your nose. Informational scents and the variety of life in your environment might all fascinate your dog, who is naturally curious about the world around it. Whenever it stops at a fire hydrant or at the base of a specific tree, it is most likely examining the calling card of another dog that has marked its territory there. All dogs leave behind their own unique marks to inform other dogs about things like nearby snacks, threats, or friends. Given all this information, it makes sense that a dog would prefer to explore its world from time to time, instead of always passing through. Unfamiliar scents might take your dog extra time to process, just like a never-before-seen flower or shrub might fascinate you.
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs suffer the most from behavioral issues when they are chronically bored or unstimulated. Fortunately, smelling familiar things, learning new scents, and satisfying their constant curiosity are fantastic ways to keep your dog mentally stimulated. When you go out for walks, consider switching it up from time to time and allowing your dog to take you for a walk. “Smell walks” are a great way to bond with your dog and understand the world in a different way. Instead of going for time or distance, take your dog somewhere and allow him to sniff everything to his heart’s content. Follow him around and try and guess or see what he is interacting with. By doing this at various common stopping points along your usual route, you may satisfy your dog’s curiosity enough that he stops attempting to sniff out that spot during your normal walks.
You may reach a point where you feel like it has become too difficult to walk your dog because of how often he stops, and because of how much your dog resists you when you do try and pull at the leash. Sometimes, dogs become unintentionally trained to associate pulling at their leashes with reward. Since it is rewarding for a dog to sniff a familiar object, every time he pulls at the leash and also gets to smell something, the pulling behavior becomes more reinforced. In these cases, try leash training your dog not to associate pulling at the leash with getting to smell out an object. Instead of letting him sniff at the thing that he wants, slow down preemptively, stop, and turn around whenever your dog tries to go after an aromatic pit stop. After a while, your dog will learn to stop and sniff only when you are okay with it.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you have a particularly curious dog, and you want to both reward and control that curiosity, you can teach “sniff” as a command. Try verbally commanding your dog to sniff when he wants to, and when he starts to lose interest in the object, praise him for enjoying the sniff and moving on. By working the behavior into a training regimen or rewarding your dog with a short smell walk during or after a normal walk, you can use the act of sniffing a desirable object as a treat unto itself. Conversely, routinely stifling a dog’s desire to explore the scents in his environment can drive a wedge between you and your dog. If your dog ever comes to see you as an oppressive killjoy, you may risk damaging some of your dog’s playful, perky, and fun personality traits.
Rushing around and always looking ahead can cause you to miss the many small, breathtaking, eye-catching wonders in the world around you. People who stop to appreciate these moments frequently seem to be considerably less stressed, and they still get the most out of life. This is why humans encourage each other to stop and smell the roses. Dogs, whose sense of smell is significantly better than humans, simply require less reminding.