We New Yorkers just love our dogs — we feed them the best food, buy them all sorts of toys, have them groomed at the best groomer, keep our vet appointments, arrange for play in dog runs or day cares and without back yards (at least for most of us) we are experts at the art of the dog walk. Or are we?
The dog walk is more than just an opportunity for elimination. All dogs, city dog or country dog, need to sniff around as much as possible in order to properly “see” what is around them on a walk. As John Bradshaw writes in Dog Sense: “Smells are very important to dogs, much more than they are to us. Dogs don’t just use odor to decide what to eat or not: It’s their primary way of identifying people, places and other dogs. Smell is their dominant sense, the one they use in preference to all their other senses, whenever they can.” A dog’s sensitivity to odors is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than our own. Keeping your dog from sniffing it all in when outside, with all there is to smell out there, is somewhat like you crossing the street partially blindfolded.
Dogs are built for “smell-o-vison,” from an olfactory cortex (that part of the brain that scrutinizes odors) which is 40 times greater than ours, to a hundred times more nerves than ours linking the brain to the area of the dog’s nose that detects odors. And it is this very highly specialized nose that we are depriving of all that incredibly informative odor when we prevent our dogs from sniffing around on a walk.
Watch each other on your next walk; here are just a few for starters: We yank a dog from a lamppost just as it gets interesting, or we don’t pay attention and know that our dog has started to sniff and we yank them away before they even get started, or we think dogs are people and a good butt sniff means something other than getting to know the dog being sniffed, or even worse we put head halters on our dogs and inhibit the behavior along with other necessary natural behaviors (that visible drooping and slinking you see with a head halter lets us know this control device is not being used correctly, if it should be used at all).
The good news is that making time for sniffing not only allows a dog to adequately “see” the world, sniffing is exercise for your dog’s brain — processing all that information is a lot of work. It is as equally important for the dog to have something mentally to do as it is for the dog to have something physically to do. Try it on and see how much calmer and happier your dog will start to appear. Letting your dog sniff his or her way around the block opens up a whole new world for you both.
For more information or to contact the author visit www.animalbehaviorist.us