Anyone who has ever walked a dog is familiar with the fact that, despite your best intentions, your dog usually has other ideas. She will stop to do her business, of course, but she will also move from tree to tree and spot to spot, sniffing like her life depends on it. She may be well-behaved enough to not chase every squirrel or cat she comes across, or jump on any neighbor she happens to see, but she will certainly feel compelled to examine where they’ve been. She will cross in front of you, from left to right and back again, always looking for the next point of interest, without any realization that she is potentially putting you both in danger.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs have minds, and agendas, of their own. To a dog, going for a walk is not only the chance to get some exercise and relieve themselves, but it also gives them the chance to find out what’s been happening in the neighborhood. According to Dr. Stanley Cohen, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and noted expert in dog-human interaction, “Dogs are living in a totally different world than we are, filled with much, much more information than we can possibly process about smell… That’s the way they parse information.”
Humans are visual animals, we get most of our information about the world from our eyes, and although we get information through our nose, it’s not nearly as detailed. This is almost the exact opposite of dogs; dogs get the vast majority of information about the world from their nose, and only a little information from their eyes. And so a dog will follow her nose, even if that means walking in front of you repeatedly. All dogs will do this, of course, but some dogs are going to be more committed to following scent than others. Certain breeds, collectively known as scent hounds, have been bred for thousands of years to track prey with their nose. While modern people no longer seriously expect a Dachshund to hunt down fox dens, the change in their duties came only recently. The instincts of the animal outweigh modern life. To put it bluntly, your dog follows her nose because she is hardwired to do so. In some contexts, it’s cute. In others, it can be a real risk. Some 86,000 Americans are injured every year tripping over pets, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Avoid becoming part of that statistic by ensuring that you and your dog are properly leash trained.
Encouraging the Behavior
The safest, most effective way to ensure your walk doesn’t end in disaster is to make sure you and your dog are well acquainted with using a leash. Proper leash training helps to make walks more pleasant and rewarding for you and your dog, and if you’re both enjoying walks without unnecessary drama, your walks can be longer and more frequent. Walking your dog is a great way for both of you to get exercise and to bond. It’s also an excellent stress relief. Make sure that your dog has a good leash and collar as well as a tag that has your contact information in case she breaks away from you. It’s a good idea to wear a reflective vest and to make sure your leash and your dog’s collar have reflective tape in order to be visible to drivers, cyclists and joggers. You should make sure that you are always armed with treats such as cut up hot dogs or freeze-dried liver snaps to help her resist temptation, and to reward her good behavior.
A walk should be enjoyable for both of you, so you should make sure that you are wearing good walking shoes, appropriate clothes, and please don’t forget about the doggie-doo bags to help you be a responsible pet owner. Your dog is always happy to see you; please make sure your neighbors feel the same way!
Other Solutions and Considerations
In addition to leash training, making sure your dog has adequate exercise will be a big help in curbing her scent-seeking behavior. If you are fortunate enough to live near a dog park, be sure to take your dog there for a nice treat. Give her the space to indulge her doggy instincts and really enjoy herself. Once she goes home, you will be rewarded with a very happy, and tired dog. And a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. If you don’t live near a dog park, or even if you do, be sure to give your dog frequent walks and lots of play time.
Your dog will always be interested in her neighborhood goings-on. Sniffing the ground is the canine equivalent of reading the newspaper or browsing the internet. Your dog should have the chance to not only exercise her legs but her nose and brain as well. If you prepare ahead of time, you and your dog will truly enjoy your walks together.