Does your dog stop at every post on the street and every tree in the park? Are you constantly moving him on to get your morning walk over and done with so that you can get on with your day?
Scent and a dog’s sense of smell both play such essential parts in their lives that we do them a disservice if we don’t let them indulge.
Seeing the world through a dog’s nose
While we use our eyes to make sense of our surroundings, our dogs use their nose. Compared to the puny five million olfactory receptors in a human nose, our dogs have between 125–300 hundred million, which goes some way to explain why they love to sniff so much.
Not only do our dogs have more scent receptors in their nose, but they can use their nostrils independently to sample two smells at once.
In fact, a dog’s sense of smell is so sophisticated that as he samples an odor, he is distilling it into its individual components. So, while we smell freshly baked bread, our dogs smell yeast, oil, flour, salt, etc.
While dogs appear to sniff almost continuously without taking a breath, they are using their unique ability to separate the in breath into two separate channels as it enters the nose.
The first channel takes a portion of the air into the lungs and the second channel carries the rest into an olfactory recess for identification, enabling the dog to sniff and breathe at the same time.
The surprising benefits of sniffing
So, why should you take the time to let your dog use his nose? Well, sniffing has some unexpected benefits.
- It makes your dog happy
Scent goes directly to the limbic system of a dog’s brain. The limbic system is a primitive part of the brain that is responsible for a dog’s emotions and other behavioral systems.
As our dogs sniff, it activates this area of the brain, creating an emotional landscape for our dogs. What’s more, the limbic system is responsible for a dog’s ability to learn and remember which, in part, is why using smelly treats such as cheese works so well when training your dog.
Giving your dog plenty of time to indulge his nose enables the release of feel-good hormones, leading to a feeling of contentment.
- It tires your dog
While we generally think of exercise as being strictly physical, mental workouts are often more effective at tiring out dogs.
The effort it takes to sort and identify individual elements of an odor requires a lot of work. It’s a little like us trying to solve a tough logic problem—the required mental energy is tiring.
So, if you want a happy and tired dog, let him sniff.
- It’s a bonding opportunity
We tend to train our dogs to do the things we want—which is good. But allowing a dog to engage in an activity that allows him to do something that he wants to do can also provide us with a great bonding experience.
Whether it’s formal scent work in a class or playing a “find it” game at home by hiding some tasty treats, your dog will love it.
Working with your dog to help him investigate a scent trail is the perfect way to engage with your dog in a game that he can control.
Don’t turn your nose up at something smelly
Sniffing is such a vital part of your dog’s world that depriving him of the opportunity to do so is a little like being blindfolded while trying to watch your favorite movie—while you can get a sense of what’s going on, you miss a big chunk of the story.
While you might not have the time to give your dog unrestricted access to every smell, even setting aside a short section of every walk where he can indulge his nose can keep your dog content.
Practical Paw is written by Kim and Mike, with inspiration provided by our own dog, Theo (the happy ginger chap in the photo). Whether you are brand new to sharing your life with a dog or an experienced dog parent we are here to offer you a Practical Paw on all things dogs.
We believe in positive reinforcement, kindness and respect to our animals. It is our aim to promote the well-being and best practice for dog lovers for all aspects of being a responsible dog owner.