Should I Let My Dog Sniff on Walks?

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November 15, 2022 / Behavior / By: Lilianna Parker

All dogs love to sniff on walks. As a dog owner, there are some days that I cannot go a few steps without my Shiba Inu Cleo stopping to take a long sniff at a tree or rock.

All dogs receive an extraordinary amount of information from their environment through scent. In fact, dogs have such a keen sense of smell that it is estimated that they can smell a tablespoon of sugar in enough water to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

While this explains why dogs absolutely love to smell things, some questions still remain.

Should you always let your dog sniff when on walks, or is getting some exercise more important? What can happen if you never let your dog sniff when on walks?

Let’s dive into answering these questions.

Why do Dogs Love Sniffing on Walks?

Scent hound dog breeds like Beagles and Bloodhounds have the best sense of smell in the canine world. However, this doesn’t mean that other kinds of dogs don't have an incredible sense of smell as well. All dogs technically have the ability to sniff out much more than we humans could ever comprehend.

When a dog sniffs the grass along a sidewalk, they will be able to sniff plenty of different things and gather some potentially useful information.

For example, in one sniff your dog can tell how many dogs have gone the same walking route and how long ago they were there.

Your dog can also likely discover these other dogs’ ages, genders, and if they have been spayed or neutered or not. They may even be able to tell if another dog is sick or experiencing a medical condition.

Dogs will not only learn information about other dogs from sniffing though.

They will also be able to smell the squirrels that ran through the grass at night and the cat that goes stalking there in the morning. Dogs will smell the plants and soil as well. This is how they find tasty snacks that we did not see.

For a dog smelling is equivalent to a person looking at a beautiful painting or listening to their favorite music. They love to do it just because it is fun and mentally stimulating for them.

Why You Should Let Your Dog Sniff on Walks

Since a dog’s sense of smell is one of the most important tools that they have, it is only natural for them to want to use it. This is especially true when you are outside.

After all, there are much more interesting scents outdoors than inside most of the time, especially when in a new environment.

Letting your dog sniff when out on walks will allow them to enjoy the activity more. This is because sniffing will allow your dog to explore their environment and fulfill this mental enrichment need.

While you do not necessarily need to let your dog sniff every tree or spend five minutes sniffing one spot, it is a good idea to let them smell at least every now and then.

This will prevent your dog from becoming frustrated and viewing walks as a stressful event. It is also a nice thing to do for our canine companions.

What Could Happen if You Don’t Let Your Dog Sniff on Walks?

While your dog is not likely to have a severe adverse reaction to not being able to sniff one spot, they will definitely become frustrated by not being allowed to sniff over time.

This is especially true if they are never allowed to sniff and are constantly being tugged on the leash.

Some behavioral issues can occur as a result of this kind of frustration or stress. These behavioral problems often include tugging on the leash and refusing to walk.

Taking the time to let your dog smell when on walks can often help prevent these kinds of issues and make the walking experience more enjoyable for both you and your dog.

Fun Enrichment Activities to do on Walks

Since smelling their environment is incredibly mentally stimulating for dogs, there are some ways that you can turn your walk into an enrichment activity.

While you do not need to make walks extra fun every time, engaging your dog in the following activities can be a great way to get their mind moving.

Here are some fun and easy enrichment activities to do with your dog when on walks!

Bring Some Treats and Let Your Dog Forage

You could provide your dog with some extra mental stimulation by using nature’s snuffle mat!

That's right, just sprinkling some dry kibble or treats in the grass is incredibly entertaining to your dog.

Doing this simulates foraging for your dog, which also gets them to start thinking. When allowing your dog to forage it is best to choose clean and clear areas. This way you do not need to worry about your dog eating any trash or potentially harmful plants.

You could also do this activity in your backyard as well as on walks. In fact, this is a great option for days when we are sick or just do not feel like spending a lot of time exercising our dog. This is because the mental stimulation that comes with this activity will help tire out your dog without any intense exercise.

Go on a Sniffing Walk

A sniffing walk does not necessarily have a destination in mind. Rather, a sniffing walk allows your dog to sniff whatever they want for as long as they would like to. This activity will be incredibly mentally stimulating for your dog, and doing this every once in a while will help balance out normal walks where sniffing is a bit more limited.

This is within reason of course. No trash sniffing, please! It is also a good idea to learn what local plants could potentially harm your dog and keep them away from these things.

Going on a sniffing walk can be extremely helpful for both people and dogs who have a difficult time walking quickly or over long distances. This is because a short sniffing walk is still enjoyable for the dog. It will also tire them out a bit thanks to the mental enrichment that it provides, even when you are not walking a long way.

Featured Image via Australian Shepherds/Flickr


Lilianna Parker

Lilianna Parker is a certified dog trainer through the Animal Behavior College, and has been involved in training dogs in the New York State community for several years. Lilianna has also written numerous works on dog training using positive reinforcement. She believes that every dog owner should have the tools that they need to see their dogs succeed. Her articles and blog posts about dog training are excellent ways for dog owners to get started with force-free training. She owns Simply Positive Dog Training and when she’s not writing or training, she enjoys going for hikes with her Shiba Inu called Cleo!

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