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Take Fido on a Sniff

When you walk your dog, should you keep a straight line without stops or do you let the dog stop and sniff? My dog is thrilled to get outside and exercise, but if I don’t try to keep us moving, he’ll stop and sniff every-thing he can find, and he’ll spend a good amount of time doing it. _ Nisha Jagtiani, Gandhinagar

Your pup is not alone in his love for all things odorous. Dogs need to sniff. It’s the primary way they experience the world around them and make sense of everything. They have 50 times as many scent receptors in their noses as humans, and they even have an additional organ above the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal organ that helps trap scents.

So, asking a dog to go on a walk without sniffing is like asking a human to go for a walk without looking at anything except for what is exactly in front of them. That might be good exercise, but it would be pretty boring, right? To us it can be boring, pointless and at times even frustrating that our dogs are obsessively sniffing everything on their path. However: It is really important that we let them use their noses and the calming effects that come with sniffing.

Some breeds that are more likely to obsessively sniff than others (Border Terriers, Bloodhounds or Beagles are big sniffers). Nervous and anxious dogs also tend to sniff especially intensely. Let’s look at sniffing and the benefits that come with it! It’s not easy to appreciate just how much information dogs can absorb through sniffing. Unfortunately, this is not something we will ever be able to experience ourselves, so abstract knowledge of their superior ability to smell is all we have. Dogs can smell 10,000 – 100,000 times better than we can. They can detect some scents in parts per trillion. In numbers, that means they can notice 1 particle in 1,000,000,000,000 other particles. We utilise the incredible power of our dogs’ noses in many ways. From Search and Rescue dogs that save victims that otherwise would have been lost over drug detection dogs to service dogs that can alert their owners by smelling stuff in advance. But sniffing is not just our dog’s greatest talent. It also is one of their most universally enjoyed past-times. Different breeds of dogs like or dislike different activities. A Saint Bernard may not be thrilled about daily sessions of playing frisbee and an Italian Greyhound may not like to come swimming with you. An Anatolian Shepherd probably doesn’t need to go to the farmers market and greet dozens of people every weekend and a Belgian Malinois is not a lap dog. (This is why it is so important to make sure your dog fits your lifestyle before you acquire him, whether through a rescue or from a breeder. Picking a dog that similar ideas of fun as you have will make your life together so much easier and more joyful.) All breeds however, no matter how big, active or aloof, have one thing in common: They love to sniff.