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Why it’s important to let your dog sniff on their walks

Black French Bulldog sniffing a flower

Dogs use sniffing as a way to communicate.

© Welshea - Shutterstock

Going for a walk is definitely your dog’s favourite activity of the day. Beyond physical activity, this is an opportunity for your dog to be mentally stimulated, and sniffing around helps them do that.

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the

Dogs communicate through smells. Indeed, odors are a huge source of information for dogs, they can find out a lot about their counterparts. Each tree, lamppost, piece of grass reveals precious information to your dog, information that your dog needs. For example, if a dog finds himself in a new territory, he will sniff around to determine which other dogs live in the area. Preventing a dog from sniffing during a walk would be like forcing a human to walk around blindfolded.

As a dog owner, whether your dog is going for a short walk or not, you should let your pooch sniff around. Let’s find out why it’s so important for dogs to sniff on their walks.

The dog’s smell: Why is sniffing so important to dogs

Did you know that the smell is the most developed sense in dogs? Ah, now that is interesting! That’s probably why you notice your dog’s cute little nose moving a lot. Your dog also has a wet nose most of the time because the humidity allows it to better preserve the olfactory particles and this facilitates their processing and interpretation by the brain.

We all know about our pooches fantastic sense of smell. But what can dogs smell?

The dog’s nose contains nearly 200 million olfactory receptors, that is to say 40 times more than humans who have 5 million. In addition, both dogs and cats are endowed with the Jacobson organ, or vomeronasal organ, in their palate, which allows them to capture and interpret smells. This is the reason why cats and dogs tend to open their mouths a little when they perceive a smell.

Dogs see the world through their nose, it allows them to discover their environment and understand it, which explains why dogs sniff a lot and especially during walks.

4 reasons why sniffing is so important for dogs

As we have seen, smell is a source of information for dogs. Thus, your doggie has this reflex to understand his environment. That's the first reason why it's important for dogs to sniff.  But that’s not the only reason why it’s important for dogs to sniff around.

Sniffing makes your dog feel better: By harnessing your dog’s natural sniffing behaviour is a way to calm and get your dog to relax. A study published in the Applied Behavior Science Journal in 2019, suggested that dogs feel more optimistic when provided with plenty of sniffing opportunities.

Sniffing makes your dog feel more tired: Obviously, dogs need regular physical activity for their health. This allows them to evacuate too much energy. However, exercise is not the only way a dog can meet its needs. If you really want a dog to exercise, you need to stimulate both his body and his mind. The effort required to collect and sort the different information of a scent is a work that requires mental energy. Additionally, letting your dog sniff while walking prevents cognitive decline as the dog ages.

Sniffing is an important part of your dog’s communication: This is probably the most important reason why dogs sniff a lot, it’s their way to communicate. Your dog can detect the mood of another dog by smelling its urine and thus know if he is in danger or not. Scents will allow your pooch to tell if a dog is a male or female, if it’s one they are familiar with or not. Dogs can also figure out if a female in heat has passed by, if a poorly dog is hanging around, if a dangerous animal is wandering around. They can also figure out what other dogs have eaten. Smell is so powerful in dogs.

Owners can sometimes be a little bit embarrassed when their dog immediately gravitates towards a dog’s genitals, butt or sometimes human genitals when they first meet. But it’s just your dog’s way of saying hello, almost like a handshake, almost….

Is sniffing on walks good for dogs?

When you go for a walk, you probably noticed that your dog keeps stopping every two seconds to sniff all over the place. It could be irritating, but it’s so important for your dog! Your furry friend discovers and understands what surrounds him, but also captures the messages left by his counterparts. For this reason, don’t hesitate to let your dog sniff its surroundings, it is healthy for them, completely natural and reassuring. If your dog has a tendency to run away anywhere, keep him on a leash, but let him smell his environment to make it his own and allow him to discover it in peace. He will be happy and serene.

Preventing smelling can cause a lot of stress for your dog, as some fearful poochs need reassurance by sniffing their surroundings. An animal that no longer knows where it lives will feel disoriented and lose its ability to socialize.

What do dogs sniff when on a walk?

Dogs sniff pretty much anything, from a pretty flower to trash (usually they enjoy the smell of trash more than flowers, but hey, we still love them). Letting your dog sniff gives him autonomy, a feeling of freedom that many dogs need to feel good. This little freedom is therefore good for its well-being, so let your dog do it as long as he does not put himself in danger.

Note that a good walk is not measured by the number of kilometers, but rather by the different scents it smells. This is why it is necessary to let your animal stop and smell anything it wants to.

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