Scent Walks Are More Beneficial Than You Might Realize

By Faith McCloy
December 15, 2023

Does your dog stop to sniff something every 5 feet? It can be frustrating when you’re trying to get your heart rate up, but your pup has stopped for the umpteenth time to sniff something that seems unassuming. 


Sniffing is a great way for your dog to get some mental stimulation! Giving your dog time to embrace their surroundings is akin to us humans talking to neighbors or friends to get the 411 on what’s happening around us. Here’s why you should let your dog catch up!

Why Does Your Dog Sniff?

Dogs have deep histories within their genetics. Labrador retrievers hunted birds, Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers, and terriers hunt underground creatures like rodents. 


A dog’s sense of smell is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more accurate than ours. Dogs have 50 scent receptors for every one that humans have! They even have a special organ located above the roof of their mouths that is dedicated to detecting pheromones of other animals. 


Dogs use sniffing to gather all kinds of information. Their nostrils are capable of moving independently, so they can figure out where a scent is leading hours after the culprit was there. Territorial animals such as dogs also like to know who might be in their space. When a male dog marks their territory, they are attempting to let others know that they own the space. Dogs can also identify the mood and gender of another dog, another’s health, sense how we’re feeling, etc. 

Fun fact! If your dog is rubbing their head and body on you, that means they enjoy your scent and want it on them! This is why your dog might roll in poop or more if they find something particularly enticing. 

Let Them Sniff!

There are benefits that come from allowing your dog to sniff their hearts out on walks. The mental simulation that they receive from being able to sniff what they please is at the top of the list. 


While humans mainly analyze the cues they receive visually, dogs receive most of their cues through their noses. Analyzing these cues can help exhaust them as they attempt to take in all the scents they can work out. Experts say that allowing your dog to sniff for 20 minutes can be equivalent to an hour-long walk when it comes to enrichment and tiring them out. 


Many dogs would benefit from either the addition of scent walks or simply taking a scent walk over a long endurance walk. Senior dogs often face issues like hearing or vision loss, joint pain, and obesity. These issues can make it difficult to walk for even short periods of time. Adding a scent walk into a senior dog’s day can exhaust them without overdoing exercise with a walk. 


Apartment dogs or those without a significant space to run around would also benefit. Open yards are a luxury when you live in the city and scent walks are the solution. Densely populated areas are not the safest for long, endurance walks, but are great for the smells your pup would have access to. These walks provide an alternative that keeps your dog away from overstimulating crowds and places them in a comfortable environment where they can explore. 

A German Shepherd puppy is sniffing the ground.

Putting It Into Practice

There are two ways you can complete a scent walk. 

Exploring Open Spaces

One of the best ways to allow a scent walk is to introduce your dog to an open space that commonly has other dogs and humans walking through it. An area like this is essentially a buffet of delicious scents for your dog to discover. Your pup can naturally explore their senses without constantly pulling on their leash to get to something they want to smell. Aside from other dogs you might encounter while exploring, there is also wildlife that your dog could investigate!


Make sure you only let your dog off their leash if the park allows it and if your dog’s recall is pristine. 

“Lose” Control

Another option for taking a scent walk is finding a short route that will take about 20-30 minutes. Ideally, this should be a route that is not rigorous and will let them explore. You should allow your dog to choose the pace, rather than it being a brisk walk intended for exercise. As your dog is guided by their instincts, you should keep an eye out for any unsafe areas they might be beelining for. You can also watch how their body language reacts with their environment. This will give you great insight as to how your dog feels about scent walks. Try mixing up your walks by checking out new locations with your dog!


Humans are in charge of almost every aspect of a dog’s life. Every part of their life is ultimately dictated by you. If you let your dog take the lead from time to time, it offers the potential to deepen the bond between you and your furry companion. 

However, Be Wary

Dogs rely on discipline. They are pack animals that respect a hierarchy. Responsibly establishing boundaries with your dog is necessary to get them to respect and obey you. 


Some remark that routinely doing pup-led scent walks can lead to negative side effects. Allowing them to control the walk might reinforce bad behaviors like pulling on their leash, erratic movements, or even disengaging from you in favor of a particularly delicious scent. 


Many dog owners have also been victims of their dogs eating things off the ground before they can notice. My own dog has attempted to eat an entire chicken wing while we were walking. When you live in a city, many bad things could be left behind and potentially eaten by your dog. When you take your dog on a scent walk, they might eat what they’re sniffing if you don’t pay close attention. 


As the dog’s owner, you need to make sure you monitor your dog and ensure they aren’t overdoing it. Scent walks are not the only kind of walk you should be taking your dog on. Exercise (if your dog is able) is still crucial for their health. 

Takeaways

When it comes to your dog sniffing as you walk, you can’t avoid it. Whether they have their noses down the entire walk or they stop to sniff for a few seconds before continuing on with their heads up in the air, sniffing is an important part of your dog’s day. 


If you want to mentally enrich your dog in ways other than scent walks, there are so many options you can utilize to tire them out. Teaching them tricks, giving them puzzles, or even simply changing up your walking route can give your pup tons of mental stimulation!


Scent is a dog’s way of understanding the world around them and embracing this is a great way to work your dog's mind. Next time you walk your best friend, consider letting them follow their nose. The reward might mean a world of difference in their lives!

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