A Sniffari is often a long, relaxed yet stimulating walk with your dog where they are encouraged to follow their own noses, at their own pace. Sniffaris are enriching for our dogs and boost their quality of life. They have the choice where to go and options what to sniff. We keep the leash loose and follow the dog. We encourage them to explore the world on their terms. We let the dog be a dog.
A Sniffari is great for all dogs. Young dogs and puppies as they learn about the world, senior dogs as they can slow down and have enriched lives as they gather information about the area they are exploring, at their own pace.
We humans usually dictate where our dogs walk and how long they spend sniffing locations. This can be very frustrating and unfulfilling for a dog.
Imagine what it would be like going on vacation to an amazing new destination, shopping in Paris, or being on an African Safari and being whisked through those places at a rapid pace, and not permitted to really look at and enjoy the sights, and not stop to take a photo either! This is what it is like when we hurry our dogs along on a walk, not allow them to stop, sniff and collect olfactory information along the way.
Yes, sometimes we will have potty breaks, walks or runs where we ‘get to call the shots’ and it is more of a physical activity exercise for both of us. We are suggesting using Sniffaris alongside those types of activities that you may already have in place in your dog’s weekly schedule.
Why is sniffing so enriching and healthy for our dogs?
Our dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in ours. The olfactory region (bulb) in our brains that analyze scent is forty times larger in a dog’s brain than ours, relative to total brain size. Now, I could go into detail about the incredible super powers of dogs olfactory abilities, for example how the airflow of an inhale separates into two paths, one for olfaction and the other for respiration. How they exhale through the small slits on the side of their nostrils, which allows the nose to bring in new odors at the same time, allowing almost continuous sniffing. Or how they have a Vomeronasal organ (also known as the Jacobsons organ) which has its own nerves that lead to an entirely separate part of the brain, dedicated to interpreting this phenomenal information. Fascinating.
Figure 1: When a dog breathes in, the air separates into distinct paths, one (red) flowing into the olfactory area and the other (blue) passing through the pharynx (black) to the lungs. © Courtesy of Brent Crave
By giving you a sneak peak into the incredible abilities that our dogs have, you can see that encouraging and allowing them to stop and deeply smell the roses, can be exhausting for them. Prolonged sniffing is rigorous mental exercise. It can also be deeply fulfilling!
Sniffing is calming for your dog and can lower their pulse rates, even whilst walking.
The higher the sniffing intensity, the more the pulse will lower! It’s almost like yoga or mediation for our dogs! Except we don’t need to roll out a yoga mat, we can use the forest floor or nature path instead.
The study that recorded these results also accounted for leash length, short, long and off leash. One notable observation was that dogs tended to sniff for shorter periods when they were on shorter leashes. This could be a conditioned response, we don’t know.
Recommended Sniffari Equipment
A comfortable Y harness would be the most ideal equipment to clip a leash to for your Sniffari. We don’t recommend choke or prong collars. They are tools meant to physically correct a dog for pulling on leash, which does not lead to their enjoyment or have a calming effect upon them. We want to encourage comfortable exploration with no discomfort or punishment.
We recommend a minimum of a 6ft leash, or you can always attach a couple of leashes together, as long as it is done safely. We highly recommend a 15-30ft long line (however, your dog must be under control around other dogs and knowledgeable expertise of long line usage is recommended). Long lines give them a feeling of freedom from restraint, which is also healthy for their mental wellbeing.
We do not recommend using a Flexi or Retractable leash as they exert unnecessary tension and pose a risk of injury to both dogs and humans.
Trainers tip: Bring food! High value treats. Sniffaris are wonderful opportunities to practice your dogs recall (Come when called on cue). If your dog has difficultly stopping and sniffing, you can scatter food around on the trail floor, off to the side of the path, to encourage sniffing.
We recommend giving other Sniffari teams space to encourage relaxation and calm, and to avoid any potential issues.
If your dog slows down and sniffs something for 5 minutes, it can be a little like watching paint dry, I get it. Try to slow your mind, and be in the moment with your dog. It is an opportunity for you to slow down, breathe deeply (fully in through the nose and out through the mouth) and enjoy being out in nature. This will also lower your heartbeat and bring about a more relaxed, peaceful, calm mind and body.
Take a close look around you at the sky, the trees, the birds, the leaves for example.
Believe it or not, your dog senses this and can respond to your breathing and emotional state.
Enjoy the moment together.
This is a co-operative walk with your dog, not something you do to your dog.
Let them sniff! This is an opportunity for both of you to decompress in nature.
Afterward your dog may be ready for a nap, and so might you!
If you can’t hit the nature trails with your dog, you can always change the route of your walks to explore different directions that you normally go, slow all the way down and let you dog explore the new smells, or even drive to a different area close to your home and explore new neighborhoods together.
Best Of Behavior, LLC
What is this and why does it matter?
When I looked up the definition of ‘Wellness’, various sources said ” It is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Wellness is an active process of making choices toward a
healthy and fulfilling life” and stated that for humans there are between 6 to 12
dimensions such a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc…
When we think of our ‘pet’ dogs, the dogs that are a part of our family and live with us in our homes, we want them to be ‘well’. In fact, we ourselves reap many benefits from sharing our lives with them including lowered blood pressure, a decreased risk of heart attacks, decreased pain and anxiety levels, alleviation of depression and encouraging us to exercise.
We provide food, fresh water, standard veterinary care, daily walks, maybe some toys or chew toys, and believe that this is sufficient.
And it could be. But is it always? What are the true needs of our furry companions and how can we help them beyond surviving, to fully thriving?
Who are our dogs?
Canis Familiaris, or the ‘Domestic Dog’ as we more commonly refer to the species, probably derived from an ancient, now extinct wolf, with the modern grey wolf possibly being the domesticated dogs nearest living relative. It is important to note here, even though they are of the same genus (Canis), dog are not wolves.
They were likely domesticated some 15,000 years ago, and have been selectively
bred since for their purpose, behaviors, physical attributes, and capabilities. They vary greatly in size, shape, and color and have multiple roles in our closely entwined lives.
Take a moment to think about the complex and varied roles that dogs provide in our complicated, modern world: Guide dogs for the blind, service dogs, airport security dogs, military and police K-9’s, hunting dogs, truffle hunting dogs, sport dogs, guard dogs, protection dogs, companion dogs, and many more!
The majority of the dogs in the world right now, a number estimated to be 900
million, however, don’t live in our homes or in kennels. They are free ranging dogs that often live on the street.
But I would like to zero in on the ones within our homes, the 17-24% of the world population, and even more specifically, the ones within North America.
Most of those approximately 90 million dogs in the U.S are ‘pets’, or companion
dogs. You know, the ones that we spend billions of dollars on each year as a country; pet spending was at a record breaking 99 Billion Dollars in 2020!
What are our dogs basic needs?
But even with all that money being spent, are we actually meeting our dog’s needs? And, most importantly, what are those needs?
Dogs have fundamental needs — food, fresh water, shelter, medical care, rest and exercise, just like us humans do. These are the minimum provisions to keeping our pet dogs healthy and happy, although some of these can vary greatly like food quality or the level of provided Veterinary care, for example.
I would look to the ‘Five Freedoms’, first developed in 1965 and formalized by the UK Animal Welfare Council in 1979, to see if we are meeting our dogs general needs.
Dogs basic needs are:
As you can see, it actually encompasses a few more considerations. As our dogs guardians we are responsible for their welfare, but with gaining a deeper understanding of their lives we can offer them a higher quality of life and
Dogs are complex animals. As aforementioned, after dogs were domesticated, we
split them further into breed groups, often for purposes to serve our needs or our preferences. As we chose specific traits and developed different breeds, the genes changed further. Each of those breed groups has distinct genetic expressions in the behavior and aesthetics of the dog, as well as each breed itself.
What is normal behavior for dogs can be similar within breed groups, but it can also vary widely between breeds. Yes, all dogs like to sniff and chase and run, sure, but what about the more specific needs of our dogs? A Jack Russell Terrier has very different needs to a Border Collie or a Cane Corso, and will want to express their needs differently. They are genetically driven to do so.
Beyond a dogs basic needs.
So we must ask ourselves, who is is my dog? What does he need beyond the basics? One of the best books to find the answers to these questions is Kim Brophy’s “Meet Your Dog”, in which she divides breeds into ten groups, describes their history as well as the breed group tendencies. Some of the breeds we have are a blend of two or more of these groups, beyond even that, it is critical to remember that your dog is an individual, and there are no absolutes with genes, behavior and expression. So while you will discover a great deal about why your dog does certain things, a lot more behaviors will make more sense, it isn’t a guaranteed guide map to your individual dog.
What happens when we fail to consider both the breed and individual needs?
Unmet needs can cause an enormous amount of stress within our dogs and will
often manifest in many ways including undesirable behaviors, sickness, aggressive behavior, anxious behavior and more. And those are likely to cause you increased stress as well.
Here are a few things to consider that can make a difference to the general and
overall health of your canine companion, to meet their wellness needs, and some of these topics I will delve into in greater depths in other blog posts:
Sonia Fetherling has trained thousands of dogs since 2001. Through her positive techniques, she has been helping to heal broken relationships and increased understanding and communication between people and their dogs.