Unlike us, dogs experience their world mostly through scent. When we see the bright colors of flowers or the shape of clouds, dogs smell the basil in the garden or “Norman” down the street who recently visited a certain bush. Scent is their most powerful sense and with it, they gain incredible amounts of information. One of my teachers laid out this information in a great analogy – when you walk into a pizza parlor, you smell pizza. If a dog walked into a pizza parlor, he would smell the flour, the oregano, the mozzarella, the tomatoes, the olive oil ect.
This brings me to the importance of “smelly walks.” As someone who is a creature of habit, I found myself taking my dog on the same walk, the same direction, and the same length every day. I would not dally if she wanted to sniff something because, well, we needed to keep moving. I realize now that I was denying her a very special experience. Her world is full of these really interesting “signs”. Just as I would stop to read signs along a nature trail that allowed me to learn about different types of plants or historical facts, she learns this information from smell. She learns who had been there before her, how old they were, how healthy they were, what their diet is like or she gets a whif in the air that tells her if the weather will change.
Knowing this information, we have started having “smelly walks.” I let Luna pick which direction we should go, when we should turn down a different block, and by-golly if she wants to stop and smell a bush for five minutes, I let her do it. It is so heart warming to see the excitement on her face and see her relish this world. So I ask you to try this with your dogs – let them have their sniffs, let them pick a path that is interesting to them. You are giving them a great gift and they are giving us a good reminder to stop and smell the roses, literally!