How much to let dogs sniff on walks?

This feels like a silly topic, but I know some of you are pretty dog savvy…

I have three dogs, which I walk together. Generally, I let them stop and sniff whatever they want. My justification was, “Hey, it’s their walk, let them sniff.”

I’m starting to think maybe this isn’t a great mindset. They stop and go whenever they feel like it. Not easy with three dogs!

They have started to do annoying things like pull towards other dogs. I’m thinking…maybe I don’t actually have control of my dogs. Maybe letting them stop/sniff freely has led them to think they’re walking me. Maybe I need to think of walk time as work/training time. After all, they loaf around and can sniff all they want – indoors and out – all 23 other hours of the day.


1 Like

Honestly, if I’m out walking my dogs, when we walk, we walk – no sniffing. There’s plenty of time afterward for sniffing. We use it as exercise, so we “hoof it”. :grin:

If the dog is on the leash then the dog walks politely at heel. It can do it’s own thing when on it’s own time. Walking three dogs that stop and go at different times is a total nightmare! Especially when picking up after a poo and they decide to go off in different directions.

I agree with Paradox.

When I dog walked for other people and when I had dog walkers for my own mutts, the first 5 or so mins, is the time they are to relieve themselves, get the sniffing done and once everyone has at least pee peed; we walk. Sure, there are times when someone needs to “go” again, but its a quick stop and on to walking again.

I don’t ask my dogs to heel, but they are not allowed to pull, I encourage loose leash walking. BUT I also make sure they get to “be dogs” either at the start of the walk or at the end.


Walking time is for walking. Sniffing and going to the bathroom happens before or after. (Ok, once in a while a quick one while walking, but not usually.) They learn that way to go when we’re headed out or back from the walk. Also praising when they go beforehand “good potty” or something, they learn eventually to pretty much go on command. Away from home etc, a “go potty” gets the immediate sniffing and going rather than endless milling around.

Thanks, all, I needed this feedback.

When I took my big lab mix to obedience lessons, we learned two things: the traditional “Heel” which is strict, paying attention, walking with her shoulder at my left side, and a more informal “Let’s Go” which is staying on my left, could be a bit ahead or behind, on a slack lead, okay to sniff and look, but not to pull and drag me around. So basically she’s allowed to stop (doesn’t have to stay exactly at my side) but if I don’t also stop then as the slack comes out of the leash she needs to start moving again. The “Let’s Go” is more of an interactive walk where she may request to sniff something and I may or may not agree. (There’s also “Leave it” which is useful if she finds something Really Interesting to sniff.)


I get it, all day long. It’s like their quality of life (well my lab, anyway) is tied to sniffing things. Thoroughly. Actually an intensive investigation, probably with mental laboratory processing involved.

It’s like me scanning the internet news feed and if I see this one intriguing article and don’t read it now, I’ll lose it and not get another chance. Or else scanning email, I need to know right now about this one … I gotta take a minute for that.

I read somewhere recently that a dog’s brain is 40% scent processing. No idea if that’s scientifically true (it was a comment in a sm thread of course). But it does explain a lot with my lab.

So I have made a deal with the lab. There are particular spots on the walk – usually a wild-ish spot with no manicured gardening or lawn – that we pause and he gets to sniff as long as he wants to. OK there is a max time limit, we are not staying there past 5 minutes. I mentally calculate that we are going to lose some minutes to sniffing on any given walk.

Walking past people’s hard work and/or hard-earned money spent on lawn care and plantings, we gotta keep moving. That part is like me being at work, I can’t stop every task because something non-work-related and interesting came up. (Acknowledging that certain generations probably do stop … but anyway.)

So each walk has to start with a couple of reminders about when we keep going. Beyond that, he’s good with our agreement.

Now that he knows what to expect, it’s not a problem, he is proudly trotting past the mailboxes, geraniums, hedges and day lillies. And dives into the weeds in the weedy vacant lot that he is allowed to sniff for minutes at a time.

One of my criteria - If I were the property owner and have plantings in my yard along the sidewalk, if I wouldn’t want a dog peeing on it, we don’t stop there. Because if he sniffs, he finishes with a pee.



I don’t have a fenced yard, so my walking is exercise but also doggy time, too. When I’m letting her be a dog, I have her on her martingale with a retractable leash, and when I’m walking to walk I put her on her prong collar with a 6 inch leash and she knows that means business. Sometimes I mix it up— I have both collars on her and change it. When I change to the retractable/martingale, I say “go play!” so she knows she’s free to be doggy. Back on the prong/6 foot it’s a “with me” and we’re walking without investigating every bloody thing.


my sweethearts little bitch is so macho she has to stop and mark everything. I swear she is going to turn her bladder inside out in an effort to squeeze a drop. He spoils her no end and she totally dominates the walk unless you take her in hand and insist she come to heel. Then amazingly enough she cuts it out. Pet sitting is a chore :roll_eyes:

She totally sweet with people but gets a little in her self when she sees other dogs. she probably weighs 6 pounds

she can do what she wants with daddy, but if I am on call, she toes the line with me. All I have to do is talk sternly to her and she is right there like a good girl should be

1 Like

I generally let mine sniff a fair amount. When I’m ready to move or it’s someone’s Christmas decorations or something I click at him like I would to a horse and we move. We are in the city so I get that he needs to do his thing.

Heading to the off-leash park, a lot less sniffing since he’s going to be able to do what he wants there. I don’t feel bad amt hustling him a bit and he’s pretty business like getting up there too.

From your first description of her behavior, literally I was picturing a 150 lb mastiff.

So she weighs 6 lbs. But dominates your sweetie, her officially designated owner, who I assume is a full-grown human. A male human, actually, since he is her ‘daddy’. If that matters. She’s probably well, well under 5% of his total body weight.

I get that.

I have always had Beagles. Sniffing is so important to them. Even just a short sniff walk, early morning, with lots to smell, makes them tired.
Sniffing is important stimulation.

In my yard a walk is for potty and sniffing.
At the park we do a lap of sniffing, then get to business walking/trotting to get our steps in.


My last dogs were beagles and for the most part, we walked. Yes, sniffing is important for them but I usually walked them together and they had to walk. Too complicated to allow a lot of sniffing. I did take both through basic obedience and they got it :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:. I had a large fenced yard so they could smell on their own time.

I am hoping to get a fenced area in my yard sometime soon. Until then I have a long lungeline that’s her “free time” unless we go to the dog park.

Sniffing to a dog is like looking around to us, we just do it, is how we navigate.
Dogs are all along aware of all smells, are sniffing continuously, air and ground scents, faint and strong ones.

We may ask our dogs to walk with us and not be sniffing, as we humans understand sniffing, but that would be like asking other humans to walk along but not be seeing all around us.

What we do when we ask dogs to stick with us and walking is not “not sniffing”.
To a dog is just stick with me, pay attention to where I am going and follow.
I doubt dogs understand that as a not sniffing behavior, but more as a space one, stay here, go there, since they are sniffing all along anyway.

1 Like

I have had this sense with dogs. It’s sort of like taking a human to New York City and telling them not to look up at the tall buildings or the skyline.

We can walk while looking straight ahead and ignoring everything around us. And many people do (especially native New Yorkers!). But that is not a very aware way to be, and it doesn’t give us the stimulation and enrichment we should be getting from our environment.

So as I see it, sometimes I stay focused on my own business and don’t get involved in all the visuals around me. And sometimes looking around is part of the journey. So it’s like that for my dog and sniffing. Sometimes we are on task to walk, this is the job. And when we can, we put more awareness into it and take time for smells.

Also I’m aware that the dog doesn’t have access to the stimulation I have every day through work, reading, tv and the computer, unless the dog actually goes outside and spends time with his nose. :slight_smile:

I think sniffing is what gives them the greatest pleasure and I let my two sniff as much as they want. If I need a brisk exercise walk I don’t take them with me.


Don’t worry, dogs can go for a brisk walk with you.
Dogs still sniff, can’t avoid it, just don’t go close and personal with the smell sources.
Dog’s smell world is similar to our visual one.
Just as a person may walk around and look at the clouds, the green lawns, walk over to see closer those pretty flowers in that yard, the books in a store window.
Unless walking for exercise, then we see it, just don’t linger to … smell the roses.
Dogs can also do both, sniff as they go, or wander here and there and get a better than passing smell on interesting spots.

Most dogs have iffy sight, but oh, their sense of smell is immensely broader than humans, by 1000s of times, why the difference in how we experience the world around us.

In our dog club classes to the pubic, we explained that to every beginner class and most people had heard that dogs smell so well, but didn’t realize it was a whole different way to understand our world.

In our tracking classes it was amazing to see all dogs taking off following a path we could not see ourselves with a scent we could not follow.
Our best tracking dog was, bar none, our 10" toy poodle.
She was so nearsighted our vet used to say she was legally blind, not to let her behind the wheel.


I fall somewhere in between. We don’t really go for exercise walks, leashed walks are usually to get the dog out and off property. It’s for her, not me, so I don’t mind if she stops to sniff.
Running and skijoring are different. She knows that if she stops it better be to go to the bathroom.

Saying that, doing anything with two or more dogs gets trickier. I would probably try to install “heel” and then pick spots along the walk where they can stop to sniff. Not worth tripping over dogs and having your arms pulled out just so they can have a few extra minutes of sniffing on a walk.