If you have trouble holding your dog’s attention during a walk, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they are constantly overwhelmed by the aromas in their environment.
While a human being has just 6 million smell receptors, a dog has 300 million – for approximately 40 times more smelling power. Your dog is also closer to the ground, and sniffs up to 5 times per second when they’re investigating an odour.
We can’t expect our dogs to simply ignore this vivid scentscape for the entire duration of each and every walk. Allowing your dog to sniff actually makes your dog happy, more trainable, and more fun to be around.
How Sniffing On Walks Affects Behaviour
Allowing your dog to observe their surroundings and participate in the neighbourhood “pee-mail” exchange is the best way to provide mental stimulation as a part of your everyday routine. When a dog comes home from a scent-enriched walk, they’ll be both physically and mentally worn out.
What’s more, researchers found that dogs who use their noses may actually become more optimistic as a result.
At the start of the study, all participating dogs became familiar with two bowls: one that consistently contained food, and one that never did.
Then the dogs were split into two groups. One group focused on heelwork for two weeks, while the other participated in nosework instead. Nosework typically involves setting up boxes, some baited with food, and giving the dog freedom to find it using their sense of smell.
By the end of the study, the nosework group was quick to check both bowls for food, including the one that was typically empty. The heelwork group, on the other hand, ignored the bowl that was usually left empty.
An unusual study, but what does this tell us? The researchers concluded that giving a dog freedom of choice and allowing them to use their nose actually changes the way the dog thinks.
Freedom to explore, make choices, and use their own natural abilities are all important to your dog’s welfare. Independant, optimistic dogs do not panic when you leave them home alone; they’re able to comfortably relax or entertain themselves in healthy ways without the need for constant guidance.
Don’t Worry About Perfect Heelwork – Do This Instead
While you do need to give your dog opportunities to stop and sniff, you don’t have to let your dog drag you all over town.
If you walk at a relaxed pace and give your dog plenty of chances to sniff at their favourite hotspots, like trees and fire hydrants, they may not feel the need to pull you around. You can even teach cues like “let’s go!”, “take a break”, and “speed up”, to keep your dog in-sync with you.
Work on teaching a solid “leave it” to keep your dog from getting preoccupied with critters, trash and other distractions. Carry treats during the walk to enforce those cues.
You can also use Premack’s principle to depend on treats less often on walks.
Premack’s principle, or the relativity theory of reinforcement, states that contingent access to high-frequency behaviors (“preferred” activities) serves as a reinforcer for the performance of low-frequency behaviors.
To apply Premack’s principle, ask your dog to do something they don’t want to do – like walk by your side, or, if that’s too difficult at that moment, just focus on you – and then allow them to do something fun, like sniffing for ten seconds as a reward. With practice, your dog will pay attention to you more readily because they will trust that they can then do what they want.
Need Help With Your Dog Walks?
If your dog’s out of control on walks, and loose leash training at home hasn’t resulted in much progress, Healthy Houndz can help. We offer positive dog training in North York and Toronto to make walks more fun for you and your dog – without the use of outdated tools, pain or fear. Contact us today to set up your free dog training consultation.