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
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.