To Sniff or Not to Sniff?

Dogs need both enrichment and exercise to be happy and healthy. Like most dogs, my two mixed breeds, Ralph and Ruby, love to stop and sniff on our daily walks. Reading (sniffing) and leaving (marking) “messages” is a form of enrichment many dogs clearly find fascinating.

Yet, for many urban and suburban pups, on-leash excursions are their primary source of physical exercise. Most dogs are voracious “readers” who would sniff every bush and hydrant along the path if permitted, and nobody is going to get much exercise that way. This begs the question: to sniff, or not to sniff?

It may seem like the only solution is to choose which is more important for your dog: an exercise walk or an enrichment walk. An enrichment walk may work well for dogs who don’t need a lot of exercise; an exercise walk may be for sufficient for dogs who have an active and interesting indoor life. But many dogs need both, and by incorporating designated sniffing areas on your walks, you can have the best of both worlds.

How many stops you allow will depend on you and your dog’s needs. My dogs are both under 25 lbs and usually get one 45-60 minute walk per day. Our route varies, but each route has stops where sniffing is allowed – and those are the only places where stops are permitted. I chose the ones that seemed most compelling to the dogs, but with enough distance between them to allow us to work up some speed before the next stop. As we approach the legal stop, I say “take a break.” When their time is up, I cheerfully announce “Let’s go!” and we’re off.  Now that they know the drill, Ralph and Ruby no long try to make illegal stops. In fact, they walk briskly in anticipation of the next stop, picking up the pace a bit when we get within sight of it.

This has worked just as well with the larger dogs I sometimes foster. As with any training, consistency is critical. As long as I am sure to make the same stops and use the same commands, most dogs catch on quickly. With a little patience and practice, your dog will too, and your daily walks will become an exercise in enrichment!

Elisa Painten is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Canine Life Sciences from Bergin University in Rohnert Park, California. Originally from New Hampshire, she has volunteered for various animal rescue organizations in NH and Florida and currently fosters dogs for Copper’s Dream and Golden Gate Labrador Retriever Rescue. She lives in Saratoga, CA, where she is the smitten guardian of two rescue dogs, Ralph and Ruby.

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