Whose Walk Is It Anyway?

by Lisa Lyle Waggoner

As I headed out the door the other day for a long walk with my two dogs, I wondered, “Whose walk is it anyway?”

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who shares their life with a dog that their sense of smell is keen.  In doing some additional reading for an advanced behavior course I’m taking this fall, I recently finished reading Inside of a Dog, What Dogs See, Smell and Know, by Alexandra Horowitz.  It’s a fascinating, witty and engaging read that helps one understand why dogs are so sensitive to our emotions and our body language, as well as helping us understand their incredible olfactory abilities.

It’s because of those olfactory abilities that many of us become frustrated taking our dogs for a walk.   We’re doing what we know is so good for our dog, taking them outside for a walk to get some much needed exercise, and it seems all they want to do is either mosey along and sniff or move hurriedly from place to place to sniff.  Yes, it’s all about sniffing for the dog.

Think about these facts: our human noses have about six million sensory receptor sites within them; sheepdog noses over two hundred million and beagle noses over three hundred million.  Their noses are the fastest route by which information gets to the brain, so it’s no wonder they forever have their noses to the ground.  And for them, olfaction is also a teller of time.  Our dogs can detect how new or old a scent is, so for our dogs, smell tells time.  As Alexandra Horowitz writes, “While we can stand in one place and take in a view of the world, dogs must do much more moving themselves to absorb it all.  No wonder they seem distracted, their present is constantly moving.”

Too often we hurry through our own routine, only to grab the leash, grab the dog and trudge out the door and yank the dog away from tempting smells in an attempt to get to our destination and back…quickly.  Believe me, your dog doesn’t care about making good time or what the final destination is, it’s the journey and all those fascinating smells along the way that’s important to the dog.

The next time you’re headed out for a walk with your dog, let it be your dog’s walk, what I call a “sniff walk.”  Sniff walks are mentally stimulating for your dog and mental stimulation is equally as important as physical exercise.  So tomorrow when you grab the leash and head out the door with your dog, look down at your canine kid and say “This one’s for you!”

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