Imagine you’re walking down a path at a beautiful park. There are flowers of every color, sunlight filtering through the green leaves on the trees, and grasses swaying in the breeze. The colors and textures are a feast for your eyes.
Now imagine the same park from your dog’s perspective. Thanks to his incredible olfactory sense, his “sees” the world through his nose. He’s noticing who and what has been along the path and how long ago they were there, based on the strength of the odor. Sniffing the “pee mail” of other dogs informs him about the sex and health of others who have passed earlier. He can even smell what’s ahead as scent is carried to his nose on the breeze.
A dog’s nose is a remarkable thing. They have some 300 million olfactory receptor cells compared to our 5 million. The part of the brain dedicated to processing scent is much larger than in humans. They’re able to process specific scents in concentrations up to 100 million times less than we can detect. They can find drugs, explosives, invasive animal species, lost humans, cancers, viruses, and can even detect how a person is feeling from the hormones we release.
Working dogs have been encouraged and rewarded for using their noses. Pet dogs however are generally discouraged from it. When we take the dog for a walk, we expect them to hustle along, keeping their noses off the ground. Imagine the frustration at taking a walk and not being allowed to enjoy all the sights along the way.
Engaging a dog’s most important sense is mentally stimulating and vital to their wellbeing. So, it makes sense that we should provide opportunities to sniff as part of their daily lives. One way to do that is by taking a ‘sniffari’.
Instead of taking your dog for a walk, let your dog take you. Using a body harness and a 15 or 20-foot leash, find a new quiet location with room to explore. Let him have access to the entire length of the line so he can move about freely and explore the area. Resist the temptation to move him along. Let your dog set the pace and you follow.
A Sniffari can be great for older dogs or dogs with arthritis or limited mobility who can’t manage long leash walks. Puppies can benefit from exploring new (safe) areas as part of their socialization plan. Taking a sniffari benefits us humans too. Taking time to view the world from our dog’s perspective helps us appreciate our dogs for who they are. By slowing down, we can enjoy a momentary pause in our otherwise fast paced lives.