If humans rely on their vision to help them learn what’s around them, dogs rely on their superior sense of smell. And we need to encourage our dogs to keep using it.
Does your dog smell everything during your walks? Does he take precious time to stop and sniff even when you tug his leash to tell him it's time to go? Dogs do not stop and sniff to annoy you and while they do it partly because of curiosity, there's more to sniffing that's quite important to these animals.
Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. It's in their nature to sniff everything they come across because it's how dogs process what's around them. If walking is their physical exercise, sniffing is their mental exercise. If walking helps them work up their leg muscles, sniffing helps keep their brain and awareness sharp.
Why Dogs Sniff Everything
Among the senses, it is the nose that's the strongest and most heightened in dogs. If humans have five million olfactory receptors, then dogs have 50 times more than this.
Dogs also have an organ found in the roof of the mouth that seals the scents they smell. The vomeronasal organ processes the chemicals that send the signals to their brains. Imagine this organ working like Google for dogs. It is how they are able to get the information and details they need about their world. If people use their eyes to observe their environment, dogs use their nose.
When they sniff a tree, for example, their vomeronasal organ tells them what it is, or how old the tree is, or what other dogs or creatures have been near it. When they smell the ground or grass, the organ helps them process if there was another dog in the area and roughly gauge when that dog passed. More than that, dogs can also learn about the other dog's gender, what it recently ate, and its general behavior through its scent. It’s amazing how their olfactory senses work.
Sniffing around also warns dogs of potential dangers or threats, or tells them if they are in a safe environment. Have you ever noticed your dog stretching its neck and turning up its nose to smell the air?
What To Do When Your Dog Keeps Sniffing
Sniffing apparently also helps improve the behavior of a dog that's acting up, especially when he's stuck at home most of the time. According to a study, the air that dogs smell in a spatially restricted environment, such as an apartment building, can induce behaviors that are related to stress. In other words, if they cannot sniff stuff outdoors, they could grow bored and anxious inside the house, which can lead to destructive behaviors.
On the other hand, too much sniffing could be disadvantageous to your dog. If the pup spends more time checking things out during your walks, then he's not exactly getting his physical exercise.
The key is to strike a balance. As the dog’s master, you’re actually in control of how he behaves when he stops and sniffs. Observe how your dog is stimulated when you're walking him and then adjust accordingly until you find the right combination of walking, stopping and sniffing.
Just make sure, however, that your dog is always on its leash. So, if he smells something off, you can pull him easily if he tries to trample on your neighbor’s rose garden or pee on a car’s tire parked by the curb. For his own safety, do not let your dog go off the leash as well if you're letting him stop and sniff in an open area, such as the neighborhood park.