Dogs need to sniff for mental health

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Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA

“I never let my dog sniff,” remarked the gentleman in the tweed blazer, “they are obedience trained.”

Sometimes we humans just don’t understand when it comes to the mental and emotional needs of our dogs. Dogs learn about their world through their noses which according to Dr. Alexandra Horowicz, canine researcher, have 50 times as many scent receptors as humans in addition to an organ called the vemoronasal organ above the roof of their mouths and under their noses. Humans have only six million scent receptors and no additional scent trapping organs.

In a recent article by Patricia Mc Connell referenced a study by Birte Nielsen and colleagues published who published a groundbreaking paper in December of 2015 titled “Olfaction: An Overlooked Sensory Modality in Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare.” They concluded that we humans do animals a disservice by not acknowledging the impact of odor on their behavior and wellbeing. A very good book on the understanding the communications barriers between humans and their dogs is “The Other End of the Leash” published by Mc Connell.

For dogs going on a walk means getting new information by carefully reading smells, while for humans it is taking in the view and covering ground quickly. As dog owners we need to be aware of this conflict and the need to provide opportunities either on or off leash for dogs to satisfy their need for sniffing. There are times when we want our dogs to give us complete attention whether in the competition ring or when training however in order for a dog to truly thrive and be happy, we cannot ignore what he was born to do.

For many dogs, especially those with anxiety, exploring new scents can have a calming effect and even improve behavior. Many dogs thrive on the stimulation from being given the opportunity to sniff and have gone on to be Versatility Champions excelling in many AKC performance sports. Barn hunt and Nosework both rely on scent discrimination and are challenging and fun for both the dog and owner. When walking if your dog is a continual sniffer think about how you can make the walk more interesting. Why not teach your dog interesting heeling patterns, change your pace and incorporate recalls, sits, touch, circles and u-turns? As part of his payoff of treats and praise, incorporating permission to sniff can be enjoyable for him and give you an opportunity to stop and appreciate the view.