Dogs seem incredibly busy when out and about don’t they? They can be into everything, all of the time, dashing here, there and everywhere. Many of us owners love a brisk stroll too though, don’t we? So how come we can stay on the straight and narrow, and still manage to take in all the sights when dogs seem unable to do so? 

The answer lies in the fact that we humans are predominantly visual creatures

We take in a great deal of information through seeing. Dogs on the other hand, are highly scent driven. You’ve probably heard varying statistics on how much more sensitive a dog’s nose is compared to ours; reported figures range anywhere from a dog’s sniffing capabilities being 10,000 to 100,000 times more impressive than our own meagre abilities. Another way to look at it is that they have upwards of 100 million olfactory receptors, compared to our paltry six million. Or consider that the ‘smell centre’ in their brain is 40 times larger than in ours. Whatever the exact statistics are, we surely have to agree that that is pretty impressive. 

But why do dogs need significantly more efficient noses than us? 

What’s the point? Well, it has a lot to do with communication. Has anyone ever said to you that they’re taking their dog out to “pick up their messages”? There’s something in this. The scent of another dog can tell our canine companions so much; from what they had for breakfast, their sex, their health status, right up to their mood on a given day. Consider that dogs don’t know whether they’ve been neutered, and it is hardwired in them to recognise entire dogs of the opposite sex, for example; they do this through scent. Also, they don’t know that any aggressive dogs in the area are (hopefully) under control and therefore not a threat. All of this information is helpful to them because it builds up a picture of their surroundings, and fellow canines within it. 

Then there’s the hunting element

As cute and dopey as some pooches appear, they are still canines; they still have canine instincts, ‘forgetting’ that they get two square meals with their people parents. They once again are hardwired to seek hunting possibilities. And since prey (such as squirrels and rabbits) don’t run in a straight line, when they’re on their scent, dogs are unlikely to either.

Given this information, it is easy to see why sniffing and zig-zagging is an important part of a dog’s daily life

They have instincts and urges that need to be catered for; you only have to look at the five welfare needs within the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to see this; one of them being “The ability to display normal behaviour”. Zig-zagging and sniff stops can seem frustrating if you’re desperately trying to get from A to B; but it has great benefits. A dog needs to work their brain as well as their body; this is an excellent way of doing so. Scent work can exhaust dogs, it’s mentally tiring. So, allowing them to follow their nose not only meets their welfare needs but also contributes to creating a calm canine in the home. 

For the over energetic pooch, the sort whose energy seems to know no bounds, setting up scent tasks can be very useful indeed. Working their brain can have a very real and visible impact on their energy levels at the end of the day. You need only Google ideas for scent work to come up with an abundance of fun ways to entertain a dog. And we dare say that you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from watching them work. For older dogs or those with reduced mobility, the benefits can be ten-fold! For a dog who can no longer career around the countryside, an abundance of sniff-time on a comparatively short walk can ensure that many of their needs are met.   

So, there we have it; allowing dogs to follow their noses has a whole host of benefits. And at the very least, allowing your dog to zig-zag on walks means that they’re likely to walk at least two miles to every one of your own. This makes for a calm and relaxed evening at home. Happy dog, happy owner. Happy hiking, dog people!

Further reading: