It’s late, dark, and cold outside. You’ve put on your jammies and settled in for the night. But wait — Spot is scratching and whining at the door to go potty. You leash him up and venture into the night, only for him to sniff…and sniff…and sniff. He acted like his bladder was full, but instead, he’s investigating every blade of grass on your property. As you lose feeling in your toes, you’re praying he’ll do his business soon so you can go back inside. (Your bunny slippers weren’t made for these frigid conditions.)
As frustrating as your dog’s prolonged sniffing can be, he isn’t dilly-dallying to antagonize you. Keep reading to learn why taking your dog on “sniff-walks” is actually beneficial for his mental health — and for yours.
What is a sniff walk?
Simply put, a sniff walk is a walk with the goal of allowing your dog to sniff the ground and explore, instead of simply exercising and going potty. Exercise and potty walks are essential to your dog’s routine, so don’t skip them; but make time for longer, more leisurely sniff walks, too. They’re especially important for urban-dwelling dogs who don’t have access to fenced-in yards, vet tech and dog trainer Staci Lemke tells the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Lemke lets her dog choose where to go, allowing him to meander and linger at different smells for however long he pleases. Also according to the AKC, dog expert Penny Leigh recommends going to an area with a lot of bushes, trees, and grass, and using a long leash (but not a retractable one, as those make controlling your dog more difficult) and a harness, so your dog can freely set the pace. Sniff walks aren’t about the distance covered — they’re about the peace and fun of unhurried exploration.
How do sniff walks benefit my dog?
Dogs’ noses are their most powerful sensory tool, so getting to use them is fun and enriching for your pup. “Imagine someone taking you to an art gallery, then blindfolding you. You wouldn’t get much out of it, would you? I imagine that’s how it is for dogs that are rushed along on walks without the opportunity to stop and sniff,” says Lemke. Discover some of the ways sniff walks make your dog’s life more fun below.
Sniff walks allow your dog to check her “social media.”
While humans have a paltry six million scent receptors, dogs have over 200 million, says the AKC. Their super sniffers give them access to tons of fascinating info, like details on local fauna, and the lowdown on other dogs that have been in that same spot. So until we invent an Instagram for pets, sniff walks are a great way for your dog to get the “hot goss” on what’s going on with other nearby critters.
Sniff walks stimulate your dog’s mind.
You may be thinking “I walk my dogs to tire them out so they behave. Won’t a sniff walk just be a waste of time and energy?” Not quite, according to Lemke. Unrestrained, self-led sniffing will cause your dog to breathe and synthesize information more, which takes a lot of energy. As for how long to sniff walk for the most benefits, it’s up to your dog, says Lemke. “I don’t think the length of time is as important as the quality of the walk. Dogs can get a whole lot of sniffing done in 20 to 30 minutes and be just as tired as an hour walk without sniffing.”
Sniff walks reduce your dog’s anxiety.
Because of her sensitive nose, only going outside for rushed potty breaks can be stressful and overstimulating for Fluffy. She’s being slammed with so many smells she wants to explore, but she’s at the mercy of your schedule, says Leigh. Allowing her to literally stop and smell the roses on a leisurely stroll helps her feel relaxed.
Sniff walks strengthen your bond.
At the risk of inducing tears, it’s important to recognize that your dog’s life is relatively short, in the grand scheme of things. You won’t always have the time to go on sniff walks, but being intentional about providing her the time and space to enjoy the world in her own way improves her quality of life and strengthens your bond. It’s an act of love.
Meandering walks with your dog have benefits beyond health and science: They allow you to spend time simply existing with your best friend. While we are constantly planning, scheduling and looking ahead, she lives her life in the present moment, and wants to spend every second she can with you. The fact that you and your pup found each other is lucky — so put on your sneakers and celebrate that luck on a sniff walk. You won’t regret it, and she won’t forget it.
If you’re tired of feeling stressed and rushed while your dog endlessly sniffs on walks, maybe the sniffing isn’t the problem. “Humans are more about the destination; dogs are more about the journey,” says Lemke. When was the last time you let yourself linger somewhere lovely? Take a cue from Fido. A long, slow walk with your puppy pal might be just what the doctor ordered.
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