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The Importance of ‘Scent Walks’ for Dogs

If you’re a dog owner, a staple of your life as a pet parent is the daily (or almost daily) walk. Walks are essential for so many things for your dog, including their health, happiness, and sense of freedom. After all, dogs are just like humans in that they appreciate just enjoying the great outdoors!

Yorkshire Terrier on the walk

Something that can be a bit of a pain point is that dogs LOVE to sniff. Everything. You could be planning for a long walk, but all your pup might want to do is investigate every fencepost, fire hydrant, or other pet along the way. 

While it can be a bit of a nuisance if you’re not planning to stop every five seconds, you have to understand that it’s essential to let your pet sniff as much as possible during walks. When you’re both outside, your dog’s nose is one of the primary ways to get their information. 

It can even be overwhelming to them how many different smells they encounter each day while exploring the neighborhood or dog park!

So why is it so important to let your pup sniff around, unrushed during walks outside? Well, for many reasons. Today, we’re going to give you a crash course on a dog’s sense of smell and why they need the freedom to exercise it.


A Dog’s Sense of Smell

Yorkie sniffing at ground

As we said, dogs with the best sense of smell get their information primarily through their nose. While certain breeds have a better sense of smell than others overall, this idea rings true almost universally. 

In general, the canine sense of smell works overtime to let the dog recognize where they are, who they’re with, and whether a situation is safe or not. It’s incredible how much more sensitive a dog’s nose is than a human’s, so it’s no wonder that on walks, they’re wanting to get as much information about their surroundings as possible by stopping to sniff.

From an evolutionary perspective, wolves or dogs with the best sense of smell would have usually been the strongest in the pack, as they understood more about dangers and opportunities. Therefore, even throughout domestication, dogs have relied on this sense to keep themselves feeling secure and in control.

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How a dog’s sense of smell works

Yorkie sniffing during winter

According to the Phoenix Vet Center, humans only have 6 million smell receptors in their noses, and dogs have on average 300 million. On top of that, they estimate that dogs have 40 times greater capability of analyzing smells than humans do! 

So, while we might not completely understand on a sensory level why they want to disrupt the rhythm of the walk constantly to sniff, we still need to accommodate for it. This means that if you have the time, it’s best not to tug on them or rush them along.

Next time you’re on a walk, it might be a good idea to try out a “sniffing walk.” This could be a walk you plan for and need to work up the patience to do—it will be completely centered around your pup. Take them on a shorter route, allowing them to sniff every single thing they want to. Chances are, you’ll be able to see that they get as excited and fulfilled as can be. 

Letting your dog sniff as much as possible can help dogs in the long term, too—there is an incredible amount of mental benefits dogs can experience from sniffing. Read on to see how letting them investigate aromas can seriously enrich their lives. 

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The Mental Benefits of Sniffing 

Yorkie sniffing the grass

Now that you understand that the universe made dogs with best sense of smell compared to humans, it’s time to explore the many ways that letting your dog explore can keep them mentally healthy. There are tons of benefits that might not seem obvious but can do wonders for their overall happiness!

Something that we can all relate to is that to keep sharp, we need mental workouts. They don’t have to be anything too complicated, but studies have shown that the more we exercise our cognitive abilities, the more likely we will feel fulfilled and stay engaged well into our older years.

The same is true for our beloved pets! As dogs age, they risk gradually losing some of their cognitive ability. While this is only natural, it can be prevented or at least delayed for a good chunk of time if their brains are kept in gear.

That said, a mental workout for us might look a bit different than it would for dogs. While we might play a game of chess or solve a math problem, your dog might get a mental workout just by sniffing things! 

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How they benefit the most

Yorkie on a leash

We said before that dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses and 40 times more brainpower for analyzing smells, which means that their brain is getting a serious workout just by processing all the aromas that come their way! In effect, taking them outside to explore new things is one of the best ways to keep them sharp even into older age.

Apart from staving off cognitive decline for longer, sniffing around can actually physically benefit your dog as well. While they might not get as much exercise doing this as they would going on a run with you, sniffing to their hearts’ desires will give them a 2-in-1 workout. Take them on walks dedicated to sniffing and exploration regularly, and they’ll get the best of both worlds. 

Overall, your pet has a lot to gain from feeling able to explore as much as they want. So, keep this in mind when planning for your next outing with your pup!

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A Freeing Feeling

Yorkie Terrier Walking

If there’s anything your dog appreciates the most, it would be a sense of freedom. Like in most animals, freedom is something universally valued and goes hand-in-hand with a happy life. 

It can be true that a dog’s life is generally controlled, whether they realize it all the time or not. Owners usually have jurisdiction over where the dog lives, where they can go in the house, what they eat, and sometimes, where they go on walks. 

While this isn’t something your pet will care much about if done right, something they will absolutely recognize is the freedom of movement outside. It can be incredibly freeing for a pet to be able to take YOU on a walk! Pets need moments where they can feel in control because it makes them feel safe and comfortable. 

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How to give your dog freedom on walks

Pretty Yorkie on a walk

Exploring any and every corner they want outside can cultivate these moments where they feel completely free, something absolutely necessary for a good mood. Tugging on the leash and constantly choosing the route can take these moments away, so it’s of utmost importance that you let them have free rein from time to time. 

As a bonus, exploration can help your pet feel more in touch with the outside world and recognize where they are a bit easier. That way, if your dog were ever to get out of the house or start roaming the neighborhood, they’d know the area and how to get from point A to point B by themselves if needed. 

Of course, it’s not always practical for you and your dog to take sniffing-centric walks each time. Sometimes you’re in a hurry or want to both get your exercise in and complete your pup’s daily walk at the same time. It’s only natural! So, try and work slower, shorter walks into your schedule in advance so you remember to let your pet roam free a few times a week. 

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Your Walk Solution 

So, now that you know all about how powerful a dog’s sense of smell is and how important it is to let them explore foreign smells, let’s talk about how you can get the most out of walks with your pet while giving them more time to free roam. 

The first thing to note is that not all walks have to be long. Dogs can get their exercise and definitely get tired out on shorter walks, given that they are allowed to sniff. Especially in younger dogs, it’s crucial that walks deplete their excess energy and leave them feeling good. Sniffing and getting excited at multiple points on the walk will do wonders for energy release.

The second is that on walks, the primary focus should be on your pet’s experience. This is the one time per day that they’re allowed to explore larger parts of the neighborhood or dog park. So, your goal should be to give them the best time possible, and that includes designated walks primarily for sniffing!

As we said, it’s not always practical to go on this certain type of walk, so make sure you actively budget it into your weekly schedule where you can. 

A bonus way to let dogs freely investigate as they please is letting them go off-leash at a park that allows it. While this may not be appropriate for all dogs (everyone’s different!), if it’s possible for your pet, you should do it whenever you feel it’s safe. This will give them the ultimate freedom—just make sure they’re trained enough to come back to you when it’s time to go!

Overall, balance is vital between sniffing walks and exercise-centric walks. So, don’t be afraid to start letting your pup stop here and there to explore to their heart’s content!



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