Should You Let Your Dog Sniff?


The short answer is: yes! There you go, shortest blog-post ever!

Ok, just kidding here’s some more info on why your dog sniffs and what you should do about it.

Your dog’s sense of smell is of paramount importance to them. It’s their gateway to the world. This is another one of those areas in which Cesar Milan is kind of a jerk, with his whole power-play about the Alpha person needing to be the one who controls when a dog sniffs.

Forcing a dog to walk without sniffing is like forcing your sighted kid or friend to go for a hike with you and thern blindfolding them.


“Dogs' sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it's 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. "Let's suppose they're just 10,000 times better," says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. "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."


In her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher explains that dogs could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water. This is astonishing and difficult to grasp, but if you try and think about how much information a dog gains from smelling, it may change your mind about when and for how long you let your dog sniff at things.

Other experts have reported unbelievable accounts of how incredible the acuteness of dogs' sense of smell can actually be.

  • There's the drug-sniffing dog that "found" a plastic container packed with 35 pounds of marijuana submerged in gasoline within a gas tank.

  • There's the black lab stray from the streets of Seattle that can detect floating orca scat from up to a mile away across the choppy waters of Puget Sound.

  • There's the cancer-sniffing dog that "insisted" on melanoma in a spot on a patient's skin that doctors had already pronounced cancer-free; a subsequent biopsy confirmed melanoma in a small fraction of the cells. And so on.

What’s happening when dogs smell each other’s nether regions?

When dogs start sniffing each other’s nether regions, chances are they’re learning far more about each other than you and the other dog’s owner are learning through idle chitchat. Exactly what the dogs are learning, and what they do with that information, has yet to be figured out by science.

According to Dogster, “Dogs use their smell to send messages through peeing. It’s tempting to drag your dog along on a walk when he’s sniffing everything annoyingly slowly, but give him chance to read the neighborhood gossip column, and let him do a little writing while he’s at it.

But it’s very likely far beyond “Nice weather we’re having, eh?” It’s probably more along the lines of, “Oh, you’re a nice dog, and you had chicken recently, and you’re about, um, 10 years old?”

There are of course, tracking dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, dogs who can smell cancer and low-blood-sugar and the onset of a seizure. But it’s not just these extraordinary acts of sniffing, it’s the daily information dogs glean from sniffing the ground, patches of urine and yes, other dogs’ butts.

I love this description of dog communiques from Coren: “Dogs read about the world through their noses, and they write their messages, at least to other dogs, in their urine.”

“While noses don’t actually speak, they do communicate. With a single sniff, noses interpret an entire story without words by using amines and acids emitted by dogs as the basis for chemical communication.

The chemical aromas communicate what a dog likes to eat, and identify gender and mood. By simply smelling, a dog can determine if a new friend is male or female, happy or aggressive, healthy or ill. Dogs get a general idea about each other with a quick sniff, but get more detailed information by getting up close and personal. That’s why some dogs sniff private parts of the anatomy!

VCA Animal Hospital article

"The dog’s sense of smell is so adept that a blind dog has much less difficulty adjusting to the loss of vision than a human does."

Dogs also have a good scent memory that can identify other dogs they haven’t seen for years – and can remember which of them was the dominant member of the pair. When dogs belonging to the same family are separated for a while, they use sense of smell to catch up on things. Changes in odors may convey where the dog went, what he ate, and what he did.

When in a new territory, a dog can sniff a tree and determine what other dogs live in the neighborhood. They can smell a visitor’s pant-leg and get a good impression of where the person lives and whether he has pets at home.

Dogs also have a great homing instinct that depends on their ability to smell. Since dogs move their nostrils independently, they can determine the direction of an odor and use their sense of smell like a compass.

Humans each have a unique innate scent that enables dogs to tell one person from another. Our dogs don’t need to see us to identify us. The dog’s sense of smell is so adept that a blind dog has much less difficulty adjusting to the loss of vision than a human does.

Dogs also sense fear and anxiety via their noses. When we are stressed or scared, we secrete the fight-or-flight hormone, adrenaline, which dogs detect even though we can’t smell it. Also, when we are anxious, we have increased heart rate and blood flow which carries body chemicals to the skin surface where dogs can pick them up more easily. So, it’s no use trying to mask your true feelings from your canine companion. His sense of smell will not be fooled.”

Bottom line: let your dogs take the time they need to smell!