Let them Sniff!

Do you find yourself hurrying your dog along on walks? Thinking “I haven’t got time for you to sniff every blade of grass!”

I certainly did. Especially when I had a little pack of 3 border collies each with bundles of energy. My goal at 6 o’clock in the morning, 5 days a week was to get them round our 3 mile walk as quickly as possible so I could get them home, clean and fed before I could start getting ready for work. But for years I had been completely missing the point of a dog walk!

For dogs, its not about how far they walk and certainly not how fast, its about all the interesting sniffs they can have on the way. Every time we call them away from a sniff, we interrupt an important information gathering process that will need to be started again next time they get a whiff of that scent. The information they gain from each sniff is essential for them, not allowing them to take in that information would be like taking a human for a walk blindfolded.

For anxious dogs, allowing them time to take in their surroundings and learn about the other animals that have been there is even more important, as I found out when JJ was old enough to go out into the big wide world. He found it all very scary and my need to rush us everywhere just made the situation worse. Despite him being walked with his confident father I still wasn’t giving JJ the time and space he needed to learn about his environment. JJ’s way of dealing with this was to bark at everything and nothing and I thought I was trying everything to make things better for him. The one thing I hadn’t thought of was just slowing down and letting him work things out for himself.

Its many years since JJ was a puppy and I will always wish I has started my studies in animal behaviour before he arrived, but his father, Jack, had always been a perfect dog and I hadn’t needed to understand the nuances of dog behaviour because Jack had been so good at understanding human behaviour. JJ was the catalyst to a long journey of study and investigation into dog behaviour that I think now I have started I will never stop. There is always more to learn about our loyal friends and so much that they can teach us, especially the sensitive ones like JJ.

These days our walks are much calmer and slower, if they stop to sniff I wait patiently for them to finish before moving on. I still get up at 6am most days and have a finely tuned morning routine that enables me to get to work on time, but it includes a relaxed, steady 2 mile walk where the dogs can play ball and sniff to their hearts content without me hurrying them along. The distance is less, but they gain so much more from this kind of walk than the hurried 3 miler we did in the early days of JJ’s life. Many of my clients have anxious dogs and I often say to them, ‘Don’t have a route or a distance in mind when you walk your dog, just see how far you get in the time you have available.’

Lots of dog owners worry that their dog hasn’t had enough exercise unless they have covered great distances, I certainly used to have that in mind with my 3, especially with an active working breed like border collies, but more miles just means more stamina. Your dog just gets fitter and fitter so the miles aren’t tiring. On weekends we go for ‘sniffy walks’ where we don’t take a ball so they have more time to sniff and explore and our timid girl Trim loves it, she particularly likes the woods where she can follow trails of wild critters. If you want your dog to be tired and content let them use their nose, and for the anxious ones, actively encourage them to get their nose to the ground.

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