In Praise of Sniffing

In Praise of Sniffing

You’re walking your dog, and she stops to sniff something for what feels like the hundredth time. Do you really need to indulge her? Here’s why it’s so important to let our dogs sniff and even to intentionally provide opportunities to do so.

Keen sense of smell

Dogs’ sense of smell varies across breeds, but generally, it is at least 20 times stronger than humans. It’s likely more powerful than our vision. 

In fact, a veterinary medicine professor analogizes that a dog could find a half teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-size swimming pool!

Dogs’ sense of smell is not only powerful but also complex. The AKC explains it this way: “We humans may smell chocolate chip cookies, while our dogs smell the chocolate chips, flour, eggs and other ingredients.”

Why sniffing is beneficial

Encouraging dogs to utilize their truly amazing sense of smell benefits them in a number of ways:

1. Increased Happiness

When dogs are sniffing, the area of the brain that is involved with emotional responses is activated. They like to learn information about their surroundings and are happy doing so.

According to, “Much as humans delight in visually taking in a fiery sunset, a dog delights in putting his nose in something stinky and inhaling deeply.”

Providing dogs with many sniffing opportunities makes them feel more optimistic. When dogs are optimistic, they are happier.

2. Improved Bond

Sniffing also creates a stronger bond between you and your dog. Because it is something they enjoy and want to do, when you permit them to sniff it strengthens your relationship.

3. Added Mental Stimulation

Sniffing imparts important information for dogs to process. Dogs get the neighborhood news of the day from other dogs’ “pee-mail” messages.

Experts emphasize the value of sniffing’s mental stimulation.  Author Zazie Todd, Ph.D. notes that allowing dogs to choose to pursue a scent to sniff is good for their welfare. Not letting your dog sniff might even be considered a form of deprivation, suggests award-winning scientist and author Marc Bekoff Ph.D.

4. Better Behavior

  • Sniffing decreases anxiety and aggression. Sniffing gives dogs more information about a situation which may make them less likely to have behavior issues.
  • Sniffing also wears dogs out. Because processing all that information is tiring, dogs are less likely to engage in destructive behavior because they are more relaxed.

What dog owners can do

Knowing all the benefits dogs get from sniffing, how can we help our dogs?

1. Don’t rush the walk

Of course on occasion, it’s fine to hurry our dogs along. But generally speaking, we need to think of walking the dog as an activity to benefit our dogs, not us. We should allow them to smell the news of the day.

2. Try Scent-Focused Activities

Our dogs have truly amazing noses that they love to use, and we should love helping them use them! Remember, the nose knows!

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