One of my favorite dog books of all time is "Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell" by Alexandra Horowitz. I already knew dogs had great noses, but after reading this book I realized just how amazing they are.
We tend to assume that dogs have better perception than we do. This assumption is generally correct. But how correct is it when it comes to their sense of smell? While it is certainly true that their smelling capability is considerably greater than ours, something important is often left out.
Dogs, in a manner of speaking, experience life itself through smell. They scan their environment for scents the same way we do visually. Scents are how they learn about the world around them. They can even smell time!
All of this is why I do my very best to not hurry my dog along on our walks. This isn't always convenient, such as when the weather is bad or when we're out for a run, but most of the time it requires no extra effort on my part.
We are all generally fastidious in making sure our dogs get enough exercise. We walk them regularly and attempt to tire them out. Sometimes, however, we neglect to consider our dog's mental energy. One great way to make sure your dog gets enough mental stimulation is simply to allow them to take the time to sniff during your walks together.
Let your dog sniff what they want, when they want, for as long as they want. This can be completely counterintuitive to all the notions we have about "taking the dog for a walk." It can feel slow and somewhat pointless. It even flies in the face of our desire to keep marching forward. I have to overcome my own anxiety to just go already on a daily basis.
It's important to remember that all of this sniffing serves a purpose for your dog. Forcing your dog to walk directly beside you is not only militant, but also kind of absurd from your dog's point of view. It would be the equivalent of your friend taking you to a museum and then forcing you to run through it.
Not to mention, letting your dog take the time to have a little "sniffari" is literally the cheapest form of enrichment. It's totally free! No toys or treats to buy, no training plan to follow. All you have to to do is be patient enough to just stand there.
For all you over-achievers out there, you can even try doing K9 Nosework with your dog. It's a fun sport in which you get to see your dog put their natural abilities to work. I attended a Nosework class with my dog, and developed a deep appreciation of just how good dogs are at "their job."
So, next time you're out for a short stroll with your pup, give them an extra minute to really dig into that interesting smell they've come across. I'm sure they're learning something neat about their world.
To find a K9 Nosework class near you, click here.