Advice from Dog Behaviourist, Carolyn Menteith
Nose – and yes’s!
For owners who really want to take their relationship with their dog to the next level, one of the best ways to do this is to focus on possibly the most underappreciated of our dog’s senses… their incredible nose.
It is probably because we don’t see the world in smell-o-vision the same way our dogs do that we don’t understand how important the sense of smell is to our dogs, and for that reason, we miss an entire way to interact with and stimulate them.
It’s thought that the part of the dog’s brain that analyses smell is 40 times larger than ours – and if you compare our measly 5 million scent receptors to a Bloodhounds 300 million, you can see that our noses are pretty pathetic in comparison!
We have an underdeveloped sense of smell, whereas in dogs this is over-developed, and so we just don’t understand what dogs find so fascinating and so enriching about sticking their noses on the ground! Some people even get frustrated with their dog when they want to stop and sniff every few seconds – because they just don’t get it!
Scent is incredibly important to dogs – as much, if not more so, as sight and sound – and it tells them far more about their environment than we can ever begin to imagine. When they sniff the grass or a bit of fence, they are reading their wee-mails! They can tell who has been there and when, if they know them, whether they were male or female, entire or neutered, how old, what mood they were in… All from a single sniff.
They can sniff out the tiniest crumbs of food left on the ground, find toys and other things that are long lost, and amazingly follow invisible ‘scent footprints’ left by people walking past (which is how they can track and find lost or fugitive people).
When we think about our dog’s daily exercise, we often just think of it as being a physical thing – but when you’ve got a dog’s nose, it is very much more. And so, with a bit of understanding of just how fundamental scent is to a dog, we can bring a whole new dimension to our dog’s walks by making time for a Sniffari – a canine combination of a safari and a chance to sniff.
The advantage of a Sniffari is that you don’t need any equipment, any extra time (just your usual dog walking time) – and it is fun (and a chance to look at the world second-hand form your dog’s point of view).
- For one walk a week (or more if you like), let your dog’s nose lead the walk.
- Use a harness and either a 2m training lead or a long line (or if your dog has a great recall and you are in a safe area, they can be off-lead but often a lead helps keep you more involved).
- Do this in an area that has good scents and sniffs to be found – so countryside or park, not streets and roads.
- Follow wherever your dog’s nose takes you. Let them sniff as much as they like until they have exhausted every scent and are ready to move on to the next. Do not rush them.
- Don’t zone out and just look at your phone… You expect your dog to join in with your activities so join in with theirs by being present and mindful – and quietly encourage them to sniff or at least be observant of them and their experiences.
- Praise each new sniff found. This should be a novel exploration of the world shared by you both.
- Not only are you giving your dog a chance to explore their surroundings olfactorily, but you are allowing them to make choices – something we often forget that our dogs need.
- This isn’t going to be a walk where you physically go far. It could be a zig-zag-y, circular, meandering saunter around a familiar or a brand-new location but don’t underestimate how stimulating it is for your dog’s brain – and how much they will enjoy it (even if they are usually highly active on their walks).
- A Sniffari is perfect for summer days when it is too hot for vigorous exercise, but your dog still needs stimulation and enrichment – and your company.
- Have fun!