Dear Sarah,

Our dog wants to sniff a lot when out on a walk. We’ve read somewhere that we shouldn’t let her because she should be walking with us. Is this right?

Kaitlyn O

Hi Kaitlyn,

Dogs’ view the world very differently to the way that humans do. They don’t see the world through their eyes like we do – their nose and their sense of smell is the thing that gives them the most information about the world around them.

I don’t agree with not allowing a dog to sniff on a walk. That would be like me taking you to a beautiful place and telling you to keep your eyes shut! Sniffing allows the dog to investigate the environment, gather information about who’s been there and when, and stimulates their brain – providing them with much needed daily mental activity. Dogs who get to sniff on walks are happier, more mentally satisfied and have reduced boredom related issues at home.

Having said that – as a human who likes to go for a walk with my dog, stopping at every single blade of grass is really annoying! And if you run or cycle with your dog, stopping constantly and randomly because your dog wants to have a sniff can be dangerous.

So my suggestion is a compromise. And this can be done a couple of ways…

  1. Allow your dog some time to sniff at various points along your walk. There may be a particularly good tree or pole where every dog leaves their “p-mail” that you might like to allow your dog a couple of minutes to investigate before moving on. You might also like to have a cue like “go sniff” which indicates to the dog that they are allowed to go and check it out.
  2. Have two different types of walks. One walk is for exercise specifically and the other is a meander or excursion walk, where the dog has free reign to go and sniff stuff out. You might also like to use a different harness or lead (perhaps a walking harness or standard lead when it’s an “exercise” walk, and a collar and long lead when it’s an “excursion” walk) to help the dog differentiate which walk they are on at what time. That way you meet the dog’s needs for physical exercise (and yours) in one walk, and their need for mental stimulation in the other.

Whatever walk you choose – go, get out there….and have fun with your dog!