Why You Should Let Your Dog Sniff During Walks


If you’ve read anything I’ve written for Dogster, chances are you’ve heard of my dog Buster. He’s a Chihuahua mix who tends be a little… high-strung, and so he’s my running buddy. I can tell when he’s starting to get antsy, or if we haven’t been running or walking as much as he needs — he wants to play more, he runs from room to room, he bothers his “sisters” and has a hard time settling down in general. When Buster first came to us as a foster, I remember how amped up he would get after runs. We would run for 3 to 4 miles, and he would come home and act like a lunatic. Turns out that for some dogs, physical activity really gets them going, and they have a hard time coming back down from the excitement.

So I started incorporating mental stimulation into our daily regimen. We would play hide and seek in the house, and he would sniff out treats on the BUSTER ActivityMat. We also slowed it down on walks sometimes, and I would let him sniff around at whatever his little heart desired. One day we went to a friend’s house with a big yard (we have a pretty small yard area), where he sniffed around for about 20 minutes and was exhausted the whole rest of the day. Side note: For dogs who have their own yard, sniffing around a familiar territory probably won’t do the trick.

Give your pup time to stop and sniff on your next walk. (Photo by Shutterstock)
Give your pup time to stop and sniff on your next walk. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Which brings me to my main point: Walking your dog isn’t just for physical exercise; it’s important to let them sniff and get mental exercise, too. Besides wearing out a dog who might be anxious or super energetic, it’s good for every dog to use all of their senses and work their brains.

When to let them sniff

That being said, you don’t have to let your dog sniff around as much as he wants to all the time. When Buster and I go for a run, I let him sniff and do his business for the first couple minutes, then we go. He can sniff again when we’re on our cooldown walk. But there are also times when we go for a leisurely walk, and he can sniff around a little bit more.

How it works

For Buster, he wears a different harness when we run than when we walk, and that seems to help him know the difference. When he has his running harness on, he doesn’t even try to sniff that much, he just goes. But if we’re going for a w-a-l-k, he knows that we are going slower and it’s a more relaxed experience.

Letting your dog sniff around gives them the all-important mental exercise, too. (Photo by Shutterstock)
Letting your dog sniff around gives them the all-important mental exercise, too. (Photo by Shutterstock)

It can be helpful to still have some structure around the walk, or your dog is just going to spend the whole time sniffing your neighbor’s yard. By teaching your dog to sniff on cue, they know when it’s time to walk and when they can explore. You might want to use something like “let’s go” for when you are walking and then “okay,” “sniff” or “go” for when they are allowed to go sniff around. When you’re ready to walk again, say “let’s go” and start walking. It may take your dog some time to figure it out, but they’ll get it.

I would encourage you to let your dog have some “sniff time” no matter what the goal of the walk is, even if it’s a few minutes before or after the bulk of the walk.

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