A dog’s life can be fairly boring. They wake up. Maybe they take a wander around a backyard. If it’s a great day, they might get to go for a walk. But on a day to day basis, not a lot changes in their world.

“If we want to understand the life of any animal, we need to know what things are meaningful to it. The first way to discover this is to determine what the animal can perceive: what it can see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense. Only objects that are perceived can have meaning to the animal; the rest are not even noticed, or all look the same.” – Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

Dog’s Sense of Smell

Most people know that dog’s have an amazing sense of smell, But did you know that they have 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose, while we humans only have about 6 million. [1]

To help us imagine what that’s really like,  said this:

“If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.” — James Walker, the former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University

Imagine being able to see for 3,000 miles! That is more than the distance between Los Angeles and New York City! It makes it so hard to even imagine what our dogs can smell.

We could also compare it to our sense of taste and get this astonishing analogy:

“…while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth.” — Alexandra Horowitz, author if Inside of a Dog

Dog’s nostrils can also operate independently of each other.

Let Your Dog Sniff

Yet with all of these practically superpower levels of ability, we tend to discourage dogs from sniffing. Sometimes their sniffing can embarass us, like when they want to sniff our crotches.

Sometimes we’re just impatient with them because when we’re on a walk, we think the most important thing is physical exercise.

But dogs use their sense of smell to interpret their world. I’m not sure humans can even fathom how much enjoyment a dog gets out of sniffing things, but I have sometimes thought a dog sticking his head out of a car window, sniffing the breeze, must be as enjoyable to a dog as us watching the most spectacular sunset at the most spectacular beach.

Take your Dog for a Sniffari Walk

Walks can do a lot for a dog. They can go potty. They can get some physical exercise. They can enjoy the sights and sounds of a change of scenery.

But many owners don’t allow their dog to do very much sniffing, either because they want to focus on physical exercise or because they think they shouldn’t let the dog do his own thing. (I wonder if people think that good obedient dogs don’t sniff? That’s a sad thought.)

Is a Sniffari Walk Boring for Humans? Meditation in Action.

Letting your dog sniff is like taking a child to Disneyland except it’s cheaper and easier! But sometimes the human at the other end of the leash might find it boring. It can be hard for us humans to slow down when so much of our lives are goal directed.

But what if we can sniff deeply of the air around us, and be present in the moment, taking in each moment with our eyes, our ears, and our own sense of smell? What does that kind of walk look like for both dog and human?

A walk is exploring surfaces and textures with finger, toe, and-yuck-tongue; standing still and seeing who or what comes by; trying out different forms of locomotion (among them running, marching, high-kicking, galloping, scooting, projectile falling, spinning, and noisy shuffling). It is archeology: exploring the bit of discarded candy wrapper; collecting a fistful of pebbles and a twig and a torn corner of a paperback; swishing dirt back and forth along the ground. It is stopping to admire the murmuring of the breeze in the trees; locating the source of the bird’s song; pointing. Pointing!- using the arm to extend one’s fallen gaze so someone else can see what you’ve seen. It is a time of sharing. – Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation

Walking Meditation for the Human Side of the Leash

Zen Master Tich Nhat Hanh often speaks of walking with peace, presence and intention. A walking meditation can be a way to connect body and soul in the present moment. We can turn our attention to the feeling of our feet making contact with our shoes and our shoes touching the ground. We can feel our bodies grounded to the earth in each moment and with each step that we take.

We can watch our dogs with delight and curiosity. Where do they sniff? How long do they breathe it in? Are there interesting patterns in their sniffing?

You can also pay attention to your own nose. While sniffing is not a human superpower, we can still get so much more out of sniffing the air when we turn our consciousness in that direction. A whiff of gasoline, the smell of jasmine blooming, food smells, the smell of autumn leaves or fresh mown grass — these smells are all around us, yet rarely noticed.

I hope this post will encourage you to let your dog stop to smell the flowers. And I hope you may also spend some time in walking meditation while letting your dog sniff.

[1] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/

If you need dog training help, and you’re in the greater Sacramento area, let’s talk!