When we take our dogs out for a walk FOR THEM, we usually want them to get exercise ,do their business and have some fun. Part of this should include letting them sniff the environment. Our Dogs strongest of the five senses is their sense of smell. To deny our dogs a chance to sniff the ground and tree trunks etc as they trot along is akin to telling us to keep our eyes shut as we navigate a trail.
Sniffing on walks is a form of enrichment for a dog who may not be able to be off leash or who may not be able to romp with other dogs for various reasons. An elderly dog will have an enjoyable, if slow and short walk, if they are let to sniff along as they go. Processing the myriad scents and sorting the information they get from them can really make a dogs brain work just as much as a light jog can make them work physically.
There are other benefits to sniffing as well. A sniffing dog is not accidentally giving a challenging stare to dogs it encounters from afar. A dog sniffing the ground is actually, wether on purpose or coincidentally, offering a non confrontational calming behaviour. When two dogs are interacting and the body language is becoming tense,one dog can defuse the tension by looking away and sniffing the ground,to say “hey i mean no harm”. Sniffing the ground and nearby trees etc also allows a nervous dog to gain info about nearby dogs or recently been dogs who may have peed there and thus can calm them down as they feel more reassured and knowledgable about the space they are in. A dog taking the time to sniff can become calmer as they get absorbed in the task of sniffing,and thus are not pulling or looking for things to worry about and possibly react to.
If however you find yourself hanging out too long at one spot and need to continue on for whatever reason ,you can set your dog up to come along without needing to yank on the leash. Simply practice the following out on walks : Give the dog a ‘finish’/ all done cue ,such as ‘OK’ wait a second for the dog to hear the cue and this is his chance to finish up his sniff ,then cue walking with a phrase such as ‘Let’s Go!’ and again wait a second for the dog to begin to join you,THEN continue walking along and dog SHOULD be hurrying to continue with you. After a few consistent uses of this scenario,this should be an easy new normal for your dog and they should rejoin you to continue walking right away after you say OK.
Sniffing can also be used as a reward! If a particular smelly spot is distracting your dog during training or if you know your dog likes sniffing tree trunks, you can ask the dog to do a nice recall or stretch of heel up towards the smell or tree then cue the dog to “Go Sniff!” as a reward instead of fighting past the scent distraction and as an alternate to a simple food reward.
Sniffing the environment is a natural behaviour for a dog to engage in. A dog who doesn’t sniff its world is not a relaxed dog,wether due to being over excited or over threshold due to fear. Letting your dog sniff is a simple favour you can do to make your dogs world a bit more awesome.