I am going to start with a ground-breaking fact.
Dogs and people are totally different.
I know, incredible right?!
In fact, as dogs are an entirely different species to us, with different appearance, physiology, motivations and needs they are very, very different.
However, the more that I understand about dog behaviour, the more it is clear to me that we can learn a huge amount about why dogs act the way they do, by comparing it to how we act as human beings.
Take for example things that dogs find pleasurable – things that most, if not all, dogs do regularly, that are obviously great fun and serve important purposes for mental and physical wellbeing.
If we compare them to things that we do as people, we can paint a picture of why dogs act in seemingly odd, frustrating or fascinating ways – and by making a comparison to things that we do everyday, we can understand how important and enjoyable these acts are – and also how to allow our dogs to do more of them each day!
No, not after they have rolled in the local fox poop. Dogs really smell!
Dogs are incredibly designed to detect, process and get a vast amount of information about their world through their noses. They have up to 300 million receptor cells inside their noses dedicated to just this purpose – people have a relatively tiny 6 million.
Think about it, if dogs are being used to detect explosives, drugs, smuggled ivory, cash, and even people trapped under metres of rubble after natural disasters – this is a pretty powerful tool!
Dogs are very much ‘nosey’, whereas humans are designed to be more visual creatures – taking in our world through our vision – seeing beauty, danger, friends, the news, our favourite TV programmes, or browsing through our social media feeds all with our keenly evolved sense of sight. We gain millions of pieces of information through our eyes every day, sight is how we experience the world – “Nice to see you.”, “How do I look?”, “I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.”.
So when our dogs are out and about on their regular walks, they like to sniff right? And if what I see driving past dog owners everyday is true, then a lot of owners soon get frustrated and pull their dog along from whatever it is they are investigating.
So what is the human equivalent to a good dog smell? I would say it is seeing, looking, using our eyes. Basically every way that we explore our world using vision.
If you’re still struggling to grasp the depth of this, try imagining wearing blinkers all day, so that all you can see is in front of your feet. Then whenever you try and look up, see what’s coming, watch the news, explore on Facebook, see who has come through the door, or see your neighbourhood around you, someone pulls you away to focus back at your feet again.
This would be a pretty unfulfilling time wouldn’t it? Pretty unstimulating, boring, and even frustrating? Exactly.
So how can we help to add this pleasure into our dogs lives a little more and ‘take the blinkers off’?
The wonderful Alexandra Horowitz sums it up perfectly by advocating taking your dog on ‘smell walks’.
She goes on to say that dog walks are often not done with the dog’s sake in mind – they are very much a ‘human walk’ – keeping a brisk pace, getting to where we need to be and back efficiently.
Try thinking of dog walks more like you taking a leisurely, stress free and calming walk around breath-taking scenery – you’re not going to be marching along, head down, checking your texts whilst trying to get to the end of the walk in time for Corrie are you?
No. You’re going to walk, and stop, and look, and walk, and look, and look and stop and look, and be filled with happiness, and look again.
Now remembering how much dogs ‘see’ with their noses, why not give them this pleasure on the walks that you take them on?
Let them linger at a lamppost, or double back to re-examine something really interesting. Let them choose which direction to take by following their nose (though not blindly into traffic, or into a lake with you attached!). Let them smell until they decide to move on. Or simply let them stop and smell the air. Let them walk, and stop, and smell, and walk, and smell, and smell and stop and smell, and be filled with happiness, and smell again.
If you only go half the distance of a normal walk, I don’t think your dog will mind. I mean would you mind walking a mile through this…
…compared to two miles of this?
I think not!
Our dog’s lives are often far less interesting than ours, be it being left at home alone, or hurried along on walks, or having the same old toys lying about for years.
Why not try this the next time you walk with your dog? Remove your expectations of your ‘normal route’, don’t fret about getting round the block your usual three times, set a time for when you want to be home, and turn round and head back halfway through this time – and most importantly let your dog’s nose lead the way!
Let them ‘see’ the world at their pace, and let them pay attention to what they want to pay attention to, remove the blinkers and let them experience the doggie equivalent of a walk of a lifetime (everyday!).
So, what are you waiting for? Why not take your dog on their very first ‘smell walk’ and let us know how much they enjoyed it?!