The importance of sniffing for dogs

Trailhound, outside, in field, sniffing the grass.

Dogs are social and intelligent creatures who require mental exercise as much as they do physical exercise. So, while you might think that taking your dog on a 60-minute power walk will provide them with all the activity they need, a 20-minute walk at your dog’s pace can actually be just as beneficial and even more enjoyable for your dog! We want to make sure our dogs’ lives are as enriched and fulfilled as possible and allowing them to practice their natural behaviours is a huge part of that.

Dogs have incredibly sensitive noses with up to 300 million scent receptors. When you compare this to a human’s 6 million, we start to see why dogs enjoy sniffing so much. That’s why these slower walks, where a dog can “stop and smell the flowers” can be more pleasurable for your dog as they can glean so much information from a smell and it’s incredibly enriching for them.

All dogs are individual with their own needs and preferences, but sniffing activates and exercises the brain and can make them feel just as tired as after a fast-paced walk. If you’ve ever had to study for an exam, it’s similar to that kind of tiredness. Even though you’ve probably been sitting in a chair for most of the time, you still feel tired after studying as your brain has been taking in so much information. Think of sniffing for dogs like social media for us humans, it’s how they get their news.

Sniffing can also be very calming for dogs. A meandering, sniff session on a long-leash can release the mood-boosting chemical in their brain called dopamine. It’s a lot like a yoga or meditation session for your pup.

So, slow down your walk and allow your dog plenty of opportunity and time to sniff. As well as visiting familiar areas, explore different places and mix up the route that you take sometimes. This will give your dog new experiences and of course, new smells to explore.

You can also play enriching, scent-based games with your dog at home, or even buy some dog-safe herbs and plants for them to sniff. A favourite of the dogs here in Dogs Trust Ireland is to go on a sniffari! We gather up interesting, safe scents and spread them out (this could be done in your living room or garden) and allow them to go from scent station to station at their own pace. Some ideas for them to sniff could be cloths with different scents like lavender, some herbs, an old boot, or some rose petals. Why not see which one your dog spends the longest at!

Another simple and fun game for your dog is scatter feeding. This can be done at any time and all you need is a handful of kibble and a grassy area. Simply scatter the kibble amongst the grass and allow your dog to sniff it out and gobble it up! Or why not make your dog a snuffle mat to enjoy? Don’t forget to deduct this extra food from your dogs’ normal mealtimes so as not to overfeed them. And always remember to supervise your dog with enrichment so you can help them out if needed!

Allowing your dog to sniff is just one enriching activity you can do with them. We have lots more ideas on how you can enrich your dog’s life.