Along with their many other quirky canine behaviors, dogs are known for sniffing as a means of exploring the world around them.
If daily walks with your dog feel more like a daily game of tug-of-war, then you’re familiar with the concept of a stubborn sniffer. Read on to learn more about why dogs sniff so much, along with some ways to keep your dog’s sniffing under control while also allowing him to stimulate his senses.
Why Do Dogs Sniff So Much?
Before you label your dog’s constant sniffing as a bad habit, it’s important to understand just how prominent your pup’s sense of smell actually is.
Dogs explore and communicate with the world around them through sniffing. (Did you know that dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors compared to a human’s six million?) While we use our eyes to take in the world around us, dogs use their noses.
When your dog stops to sniff during your daily walks, he’s simply getting a better idea of his surroundings: who else has been there, who else is nearby, potential threats, and more. In fact, when your dog stops to sniff another dog’s urine (and leave his own marking in return), it’s almost like he’s stopping to “read” a message from that other dog.
Those stop-and-sniff sessions can be reassuring for dogs who are prone to anxiety; sniffing is also an important part of socialization.
If you don’t allow your dog to sniff at all during your outdoor adventures, it’s almost like someone telling you that you can only look at the path directly in front of you while you walk.
When is Sniffing a Problem?
So, we’ve established why dogs sniff and why it’s important to allow them to indulge. That said, there are times when it’s crucial that you’re able to control your dog.
There are some times when sniffing can be problematic or even dangerous. Perhaps your pup is set on sniffing someone who doesn’t want to be sniffed and is being a nuisance; perhaps he’s determined to sniff too close to traffic or approach others who should not be approached.
Sniffing can also lead to bad habits such as leash pulling or ignoring your commands.
Dogs should have a clear understanding of when it’s okay to stop and sniff, and when they need to follow your commands—and following those commands should always be the top priority.
Keeping Your Dog’s Sniffing Under Control
As the owner, it’s important that you train your dog to understand that there’s a time and a place for those prolonged sniffing sessions.
You can’t (and shouldn’t) put an end to his sniffing habits altogether, but there are some ways to allow your dog to sniff while also maintaining a sense of control. It’s definitely okay to let your dog stop and sniff for a few seconds; it’s even better to have a longer, clearly-defined “sniff session” where he can sniff to his heart’s content in a safe spot. That way, if Fido knows he’ll get to sniff later, he may not be as stubborn when you pull him away earlier in the walk.
To establish control, make sure your dog has an understanding of basic commands: “leave it,” “heel,” or “no,” for example. “Down” is also a good option if your pup is prone to sniffing houseguests or even strangers.
Another helpful command to teach is “go sniff.” This will let your dog know that he’s free to explore, but that he’s doing so on your terms. Depending on how much your pup loves sniffing, “go sniff” could sometimes even be used in lieu of a treat!
For dogs who are incredibly stubborn sniffers, such as hounds, it may also be a good idea to do some nose work exercises before you head out for your daily walk. Hide a treat, toy, or even a favorite sock somewhere around the house and instruct your pup to go find it. By providing sufficient stimulation before the walk, your dog may not feel the need to sniff out his surroundings so strongly on his walk.
Remember: you are responsible for controlling your dog when you’re out in public. That said, it’s important that you never punish your dog for sniffing, no matter how annoying. Instead, reinforce positive behavior. Let Fido know that there’s a time and a place for sniffing, and provide enough of a predictable routine that he can trust that you’ll let him sniff freely soon enough.
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