Why Do Dogs Sniff?

Dedicated sniffer dogs do an incredibly important job in keeping us safe and fighting crime, but your dog Patch still needs to use all of his senses too, even if his only job is to keep you company.

By giving dogs a chance to sniff, they are more likely to become accustomed to their surroundings and feel more at ease. But it can also really benefit their stimulation, brainpower and (very importantly) tire them out.

A dog’s sense of smell

It is said that a dog would be able to sniff out a single drop of blood from an area as large as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. No wonder they are used in our emergency and security services!

Their smell is around 100,000 times more sensitive than humans. This is why there have been miraculous stories where they have been able to tell that their owner has a medical issue such as cancer, and it was found that dogs could also detect COVID.

Diabetes alert dogs are also becoming more common and live with people with either high or low blood sugar levels. Essentially what we are saying is that all dogs ability to detect changes is huge.

Dogs are also used as emotional support animals. They can sense fear, panic or anxiety as they sense the increase of adrenaline in the body.

All dogs have millions of scent receptors, but there are some dogs out there with more than others.

Bloodhounds have more than any other breed with over 300 million scent receptors. German shepherds are commonly used in the Army or police service as they have 225 million, and Beagles have 220 million. Springer spaniels follow close behind which is why they are used by airports and security forces.

Why do dogs sniff?

It is all down to their mental enrichment. When a dog senses a new smell, their brain gets to work trying to identify what it is. Sniffing is a dog’s primary sense for understanding the environment around them, and they can retain tonnes of information about something through sniffing it.

Sniffing will help your dog when it comes to sleeping and their behaviour, by providing mental stimulation. When they are not mentally or physically stimulated, a dog can become bored and frustrated. This often means problematic behaviours can creep into their habits, such as chewing, barking or irregular sleep.

Dogs can also be calmed and relaxed by sniffing, as they are more at ease with knowing what is around them.

Sniffing is a way of communicating

Dogs sniff lamposts and trees where other dogs are likely to have gone to the toilet. They will be able to tell if that dog was male or female, if they know the dog already and if it is a recent smell (which means they are close by).

In the wild, such information would be able to provide your dog with vital clues about the world around them, such as rival packs or breeding possibilities.

But dogs can also sniff other dogs bottoms, which is less pleasant. While this may be embarrassing, dogs are just checking out the scent of the other dog to become familiar. Again, they can sense gender, as well as health and age status.

Dogs can also sniff the ground to let other dogs know that they aren’t a threat if they are meeting for the first time, so you should allow them to do all of this rather than pull them away if the other dog reacts positively.

Why do dogs sniff on a walk?

All dog owners know about keeping their dog mentally stimulated as well as dealing with the physical side of things, and this is why you should let your dog sniff when on a walk.

Many owners believe a quick fast-paced walk is best for keeping a dog active and will tire them out quicker. But by picking the occasional slow-paced walk filled with senses such as grass, flowers and ground other than tarmac, your dog has the option to smell new items.

It is also good to keep them on a slightly longer lead (if they are well-behaved enough and you are in a safe space), so they have the freedom to follow their nose without pulling you. If they walk to heel, they don’t have as many opportunities to explore.

Do bear in mind that you should always keep an eye on your dog when sniffing, however. You don’t want them attracted to rubbish or old food, and certainly don’t want them eating anything they shouldn’t.

How to stop a dog from sniffing

Don’t! As you read above, sniffing is good for keeping their brain active and engaged, and allowing them to be familiar with their surroundings. It is their strongest sense after all.

However, if they are inappropriately sniffing (strangers, rubbish, dog dirt etc), rather than telling them off, you should use commands such as ‘Sit’, ‘Come Here’ or ‘Leave It’ to engage their attention instead.

How can I encourage my dog to sniff?

So sniffing has benefits, but you can’t be walking your dog every single second of the day and waiting for them to sniff every blade of grass. Thankfully, there are a variety of toys and activities you can undertake at home without venturing outside, great for wet weather or dogs who can’t travel so far:

  • Foraging Games – Hiding small training treats around the house, or buying a dedicated interactive game that requires them to move parts, can help them use their smell as a way of hunting
  • Dog Training – Many trainers will use scent as a way to get a dogs attention and focus when teaching them. There are also dedicated classes out there which stimulate the training which a police or drugs dog would undertake