Sniffing walks are good for dogs in several ways; emotionally, cognitively, and physically. The olfactory (scent) nerves are connected to the limbic system of the brain, which is where emotions are processed. Having a chance to take her time and sniff helps a dog to feel happy and calm. If you have a dog who is really hyper or anxious, let her take her time during walks to sniff and watch what happens to her general behavior over the course of a few weeks.
Cognitively, dogs benefit from sniffing walks because they are thinking about what they are smelling. It may just seem like a patch of grass to you but to your dog, it’s the scent of his friend Shep from down the street, a cat who took a nap under that bush, a bit of food from the shoe of someone who had eggs for breakfast. Every time your dog sniffs something, he is processing loads of information. It may be irrelevant to you, but it is so important to him!
Physically, your dog is getting a complete body workout from a sniffing walk, even though you will be walking relatively slowly for most of it. If you only walk briskly or run with your dog, some not so great things happen. Your dog will become prone to repetitive motion injuries, just like a person who jogs. Since he’s a dog he won’t say, “Hey could we stop now, my hips are hurting!” But over time, you may start to see limping and other signs of discomfort.
Take a look at the photo of the German Shepherd on a sniffing walk in the photo. Notice how her neck is stretched out. And the little terrier in the other photo is starting to curve as she turns to sniff something new. During a sniffing walk, dogs move their bodies in all different directions, stretching different muscle groups and strengthening them. If they get to go up and down on different levels, say curbs and low walls, even better.
When you put the emotional, cognitive, and physical workouts of a sniffing walk together, you end up with a dog who is not only tired but relaxed. This is from having both a physical and mental workout!
Now about the How part. Your dog will be taking her time and walking slowly for much of the walk. And you will need to have a long leash so she can safely move and explore. The best equipment is a harness and an 8-10 foot NON-retractible leash. The harness needs to be very comfortable and not the no-pull kind. You want your dog to be able to relax and be as comfortable as possible. The leash needs to be the non-retractible kind because with the retractible kind, there is always pressure, which can actually lead to pulling. (More on that in another blog.)
Your dog is going to be leading you on this walk, unless there is something you need to protect him from. But with the right equipment and loose leash walking technique, pulling will not be an issue.
Next time, more about the proper equipment and the reasons for it.
For more information, read the book, “My Dog Pulls, What Do I Do?” by Turid Rugaas.