Why Does My Dog Sniff So Much On Walks?

Here’s why you should let him stop and smell the roses (and bushes, and trees).

dog sniffing garbage can

Have you ever been walking your dog when suddenly she jolts towards a piece of seemingly normal-looking grass, almost ripping your arm off in the process?

Or have you ever tried to tear your dog away from THAT. ONE. TREE. that she’s been smelling deeply for, like, a million years?

Sure, your dog sniffing everything on a walk can be a little frustrating — especially if you’re in a hurry — but sniffing really is her favorite thing (after you, of course).

In order to understand why dogs sniff so much, The Dodo reached out to Dr. Andrea Tu, medical director at Behavior Vets NYC.

The science behind a dog’s sense of smell

“The olfactory sense is one of the most dominant senses for dogs, and canine olfaction is superior to that of humans,” Dr. Tu said.
 
In other words, dogs are way, way better at smelling than humans are.

If you want the sciencey explanation, Dr. Tu gave a technical breakdown of just how incredible your dog’s sense of smell is.

“Humans have an olfactory epithelium ]the tissue in your nose that lets you smell] of 0.8-2 inches2 in size, with 5 million receptors,” Dr. Tu said. “However, that pales in comparison to the dog’s olfactory epithelium, which is up to 60-67 inches2 in size, with 220 million to 2 billion receptors, resulting in a sense of smell that is 50 to 1000 times better than that of the human.”

Yes, you read that right. Fifty to 1000 times better than that of humans.

Why is sniffing important to dogs?

According to Dr. Tu, not only are scents important in exploring new environments, but they also play a key role in social behaviors and in both intraspecies and interspecies communication for dogs.

“[It’s why] we commonly see dogs greet each other first face to face, then face to anus in an attempt for scent detection,” Dr. Tu said.

But when exactly do dogs begin to develop this amazing sense of smell?

“Amazingly, canine olfactory sense has been shown to develop in dogs as early as in utero, as puppies have been found to prefer uniquely scented foods that were fed to their mothers during gestation,” Dr. Tu said.

This means that while your dog was developing in her mama, her unique smelling capabilities were already getting their sniff on. 

“While this has been hypothesized to be used by the newborns to learn what ‘safe foods’ are, given the long canine postnatal period of being fed milk, then regurgitated food, then meat brought to them by the mother, it is more likely that the early learned olfactory scents play a part in intraspecies communication, identity, and social behaviors, especially during the first 10 weeks of life,” Dr. Tu said. 
 
In other words, it helps them learn about their whole world around them — including how to recognize their mom (so cute). 

Because of this, dogs are able to detect far more information than we can when they sniff their world — plus sniffing is just super fun for your pup.

Should you pull your dog away from sniffing on walks?

“As much as you can, let them take their time to smell the roses, and grass, and rock, and sidewalk ... as this is half the fun of a walk for them,” Dr. Tu recommends. “In a lot of ways, it's like when we scroll through the internet and our social media pages, gathering information from the day and about the lives of those in our communities.” 

Furthermore, Dr. Tu suggested that if your dog REALLY likes to sniff, you can consider playing nose-based games or enrolling him or her in nose work courses that let her put his nose to good use!

Here are a couple of easy games to try at home:

Find It: This is when you show your dog a treat and hide it somewhere in the room for your dog to go and search for it. The first few times, hide the treat where she can see it. Then, to make it harder, try actually hiding it under papers, blankets — wherever!

Hiding food dispensing toys: You can play another game by hiding a food dispensing toy (like this one from Petco) around the house and letting your dog sniff it out. Of course, let your dog see where you hide it the first few times, and then make it harder — and more hidden — the better she gets!

If your dog loves smelling so much that games aren’t even cutting it, Dr. Tu suggests exploring structured nose work courses. Two that she recommends are: Scent Work University and Fenzi Dog Academy. “For Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, look for ‘Scent Sports’ in the course schedule,” Dr. Tu added.

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