Most of us do it every day; you take your dog for a walk. A time for her to pee and poop and get some exercise; brisk walking, maybe a jog for those who are more fit. Maybe you are out there on your cell phone wishing you could be back inside or off to work. I used to know the feeling, “Could we please get this over with?!”
Now imagine the two of you out on your next walk, and think about this for a moment from your dog’s point of view. What does she keep trying to do that you keep dragging her away from? (No, I am not talking about eating yucky stuff!) Sniffing! How many times have you been doing your best to make sure your dog gets some exercise before you head out for the day and all he wants to do is sniff!
Well, there is a reason for this. Sniffing serves a very important function for dogs. It is actually mental stimulation for them. They get information, like who peed here last, smells of humans who walked by, the bunny who took a break, and lots of stuff we will never know that is meaningful to them. And the olfactory nerves are connected to the limbic system, the portion of the brain where emotions are processed, just like in humans. Have you ever smelled a food you love and felt happy even though you weren’t actually eating it? I am over simplifying here, but it’s because of that connection between our sense of smell and our emotional center in the brain.
So if you let your dog take her time and sniff, several things will happen. She will feel happy because sniffing makes dogs feel good. She will also get mental stimulation and you won’t have to feel so bad about her being bored while you are gone all day.
There is another advantage that may seem counter-intuitive at first. A slower walk during which a dog gets to move his body in all different directions as he sniffs and looks around can provide more complete exercise than a brisk walk. Dogs, just like people, can get repetitive motion injuries. Many runners get these injuries because they are only using certain muscles in their legs; they get out of balance and end up getting hurt. This can happen to dogs too. So if a dog is sniffing around and gets to move his body in all different directions, go at different speeds, and get on and off different heights, he is fully engaging more muscles and becomes a healthier dog!
For more information about repetitive motion injuries and dogs, read What Is Too Much Exercise? Dog World 2015, by Julia Robertson of the Galen Therapy Centre:
In my next post, I will talk more about the best way to take your dog for a sniffing walk.