Dogs Love To Smell, So Try To Be Patient
Your dog’s nose is his superpower.
We all know dogs love to smell. It’s a familiar tale — you’re taking your dog for a walk and he settles in on a particular spot of grass, fire hydrant or bed of flowers, and sniffs. And sniffs again. And then KEEPS ON SNIFFING. Pretty soon, you might even take out your phone to complete a Wordle you started earlier.
But what you may not know is that smelling is a healthy activity that dogs love. And as hard as it may be to remain patient while your dog gets up close and personal with a patch of grass, try your best. Your dog’s nose and general well-being will thank you.
“Dogs’ noses are immensely more powerful than a human nose,” Dr. Justin Padgett of St. Clair Animal Care told The Dodo. “And because their nose is so acute, they use it more than other species to investigate their world. The smells they encounter impact their behavior and attitudes more than any of their other senses.”
In addition to Dr. Padgett, we spoke to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a registered veterinarian with SpiritDog Training, Julia Jenkins, a certified dog trainer with Pet Dog Training Today, and Jessica Schulte, the director of behavior and training at Instinct Dog Behavior & Training, to find out why letting your dog sniff at his leisure can actually be one of the best things you do for him.
Here’s why smelling is so important to your dog
A dog’s incredible sense of smell helps him investigate the world around him. And because a dog’s eyesight is not as good as a human’s, dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell to take in information about their surroundings.
Pheromones, a chemical that an animal uses to communicate with another animal of the same species, conveys all sorts of information when dogs meet each other — dogs are literally using their noses to smell fear, excitement, social status, reproductive readiness and whether another dog is friend or foe.
“Dogs meet each other by sniffing,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo. “Scent gives them a lot more information than sight and sound alone. Their use of smell ranges from subtle communication between each other to helping them track their way home, and plays a key role in a dog’s daily life.”
And just how good is your dog’s nose, anyway?
A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times that of the average human. Pretty amazing, right?
“Dogs detect scent in parts per trillion, which is a much greater complexity than [scent detection in] humans. It is therefore not surprising that dogs are being trained to exploit their highly acute sense of smell. Dogs can be trained to detect cancer cells, drugs, explosives, and to track lost people or animals,” says Dr. Wigfall.
And it isn’t just your dog’s nose that’s important. The area in the brain that interprets the scent is essential to analyzing smells.
“Not only do dogs have a lot more olfactory receptors, but the part of their brain devoted to processing smells is also much larger,” Jenkins told The Dodo. “The olfactory bulb — which is responsible for analyzing smells — when calculated as a proportion of overall brain volume, is about 40 times larger than ours. This means that dogs are able to process smells in much more detail than we can.”
The health benefits of sniffing for dogs
Physiological changes are happening when your dog’s following a scent, and this plays a significant role in your dog’s emotional and behavioral responses.
“When your dog sniffs, this slows their breathing and lowers their heart rate, helping them to relax,” Jenkins said. “It's the equivalent of us humans taking a big, deep breath to compose ourselves. It gives them focus for their energy and works their brain.”
Also, when dogs are sniffing, dopamine is released, which has been shown to have a calming effect, according to research.
“Allowing our dogs to have ‘sniffy walks,’ walks in parks, maybe on a longer lead than usual, where they can walk where they want and investigate different smells, can be an incredibly enriching activity for dogs,” Schulte told The Dodo. “We are always rushing around on walks, trying to get a walk in before we humans move on to the next thing on our to-do list, so carving out some time to just let your dog follow their nose can be extremely meaningful for your dog as they are able to take in information and investigate their environment. You may even discover some unexpected treasures yourself!”
So the next time your dog is smelling that patch of grass, take in a nice, deep breath and try to be patient while appreciating your dog’s impressive sense of smell. There’s so much more going on than meets the eye (or nose, in this case).