Dogs can smell up to 100,000 times better than humans!
Here’s an awe-inspiring analogy. “A dog’s sense of smell is its most powerful sense,” Dr. Michael T. Nappier, DVM, DABVP, of the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine states. “It is so sensitive that [dogs can] detect the equivalent of a 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.” (learn more here). This “superpower” has been used to benefit humans for years through aiding in search and rescue efforts, drug detection, and bomb detection. More recently, dogs have been trained to alert for seizures, diabetic emergencies, gluten detection and cancer detection.
I reflect upon this by noticing how distracted my family and I were when recently preparing our Thanksgiving meal. It was hard for us to focus on other daily tasks when there was the smell of a beautiful turkey cooking, along with the sweet fragrance of fresh baked pies. We were all eager to enjoy our meal, kept returning to the kitchen, and could clearly imagine just how delicious our food was going to taste.
Now imagine what our dogs may be smelling on an average walk through the neighborhood, and why there are those times they just can’t get enough of a particular smell. Sometimes it can be challenging to get our dogs refocused on the task at hand, which is moving and walking. It’s not uncommon to get irritated with our dogs, think they are ignoring us, and simply not listening. Think about what information they are gathering by smelling the ground after a fresh rain, or the dirt from a recently dug up gopher hole. It’s actually pretty astounding that dogs can focus in new environments at all!
Consider your perspective about sniffing and embrace this trait by rewarding it!
Instead of pulling your dog away from a smell or holding them back from moving toward the next smell, try adding something equally rewarding to the environment.
As you head outside for daily strolls, imagine what a walk would be like if you dropped a few high value, smelly treats right next to your dog’s nose for stopping to sniff something new.
Try to encourage your dog to get the treats, then give them the option to return to the smell.
You are letting them practice the innate behavior of sniffing, but interrupting this behavior for a brief moment. Often times dogs are so amazed that “treats magically dropped from the sky,” they start to look up more frequently than sniffing the ground. If you provide increased value to interrupting the sniffing behavior, it becomes easier to teach your dog to sniff quicker, move faster, or look toward you to walk them to a new area or await more treats falling from the sky. The goal is to work with the environment instead of fighting it.