How much to let dogs sniff on walks?

Best dog blog out there - with a very credible, college degreed animal behaviorist from WI. (Not a social media dog trainer.)

Please read these and then make a decision that works for you!


@Lizrd. I read the second article-really interesting. Enjoyed the comments too. The people with the ‘go sniff’ command and the guy who worked out a compromise with his service dog. Thanks for posting

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That lady is wonderful!
We went years ago to some seminars of hers, for vets, vet assistants and dog trainers.
She was a very interesting speaker, the demonstrations right on what was being taught.
She used some of our member’s dogs for those and, knowing the dogs, did very well with them and their problems, on one ACD was aggression, a serious problem to tackle in any situation.
She also writes where what she is explaining is so very clear, as above.

That’s the same attitude all of my trainers have taken (rally, straight obedience, herding). I also switch up gear depending on the time of activity so my dog associates activity with things and I set her up for success (we don’t have sniff or power walks on her leather leash except if I give the “go potty” command which allows for sniffing and marking, we power walk or run, with her running harness and we have a specific sniff walk set up, in addition to wanding around the backyard). We want her to have different ways of working her squirrely little brain - otherwise, she finds ways to entertain herself (like when we discovered she knows how to remove duct tape and can open doors).

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I watch my dog’s nose sorting out micro-centimeters of grass and dirt while sniffing away. I cannot even imagine how much information he is taking in and processing.

I wonder if I could manage the amount of additional information my dog has about the immediate environment, through his nose. Then we add sound & keen hearing. The amount of facts distilled to knowledge in his brain has to be staggering to a mere human.

On the other hand he doesn’t waste any brain cells on current events or politics or thinking of what to wear to some event or other, keeping his brain focused on the immediate reality. Which is wise on his part.


By the time my dogs are mission-ready (have passed their federal certification) i will have proofed them on scent discrimination numerous ways.
One of the things i do is ask a full team of people to climb on top of the rubble pile and mingle and walk around…to talk to eachother and cluster together and move apart and have a victim placed about 20 feet below them, so the dog has to eliminate the scent of each person and then find the one scented but not seen, and go into a full on bark alert with people passing by and talking. When they can do this exercise, they are ready to find people buried alive in a disaster setting.

I have had as many as 40 people in a 100ft sq and three victims submerged, two together (always tricky for a dog!) and another victim 50’ away. I once had a dozen people clustered directly ontop of a person hiding directly beneath about 10 or 12 feet. My dog never fail this…but then, i don’t have them play this game until they’re ready. And you know the coolest part of it is how members of my team give such accolades! like they CLAP for my dog! They give him a rub or a pat when he passes by. Uber rewarding!! And they all know his name from that day on, they are really accepted as members of the team.


Is amazing what those well trained teams can do.
Not many pass their test, not because the dogs may not be able to do it, but because the handler has to know to train and read their dog in that special way, good for you! :star_struck:

right. “It’s not the dog”. Never is.

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We have sniff walks- where the time is his to sniff or whatever and we have walk, walks where I ask him to be hiking with me and not stop every 10 secs. Our daily walks at home and at work are generally sniff walks. When we go out hiking- those are walk, walks :slight_smile:

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That is fascinating. Dogs are amazing! They really do communicate if you’re smart enough to listen to them.

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I usually give them the first 10ish minutes as the warm up to sniff for as long as they want as many times as they want. Then we “migrate”. We walk quickly and with a purpose for an hour or so. The last 5-10 minutes of the walk are time to sniff and linger and cool down. New dogs seem to catch on quickly and it works. I get frustrated with the sniffing and stopping so this was my “compromise” with my dogs lol.


This is what I do (and train students to do): we start the walk with “purpose” - wait at the door, release, walk down the stairs next to me, slowly and deliberately - no pulling out ahead of me. The dogs walk at my side (not strictly HEEL with neck right next to thigh for exercise walks :wink:) but!, I allow sniff time based on my release word; I use the Premack Principle. You want to sniff and explore? CHECK IN first, and I will release you with: “Okay, sniff!”, at which point I feed out the leash and allow them to explore and absorb all those wonderful scents. When they have their fill, I bring them back to side and we continue. If you NEVER allow your dog to sniff things on walks, it frustrates them and they are more likely to pull as a result - but if you don’t have a plan for the walk and just let the dog pull and sniff the whole time, they begin to tune you out completely - not good.

I find that this approach covers all bases and gives the dogs what they need in small but satisfactory doses, while still adhering to the walk nice/heeling principle. When the leash is on, you walk WITH me. I often take the younger Whippet out on a long line and practice distance recalls, obedience work and distance stays in a large grassy area - then after doing a bit of this more mentally taxing work, I reward her by giving her a chance to “take a break” and investigate the nearby woods. (We have leash laws in our county so the dog has to be under control and attached to a human, though many people in our neighborhood ignore this rule, “drop the leash” and let their dogs play together in the unfenced green areas.)

I walk both of my Whippets on a coupler and they are both very good at heeling, though I had to walk the “puppy” (now a year old ) solo for several months until she was consistent. During the puppy walks, I allowed the “stop and stare”, the “stop and sit and air scent”, and a certain amount of investigation - since this is critically important to the developing brain. Now she walks at my side just like my 12 year old Whippet, no pulling, leash is short but never tight.

I carry treats on my walks (and usually a clicker) and “mark” check-ins verbally: “YES! Good girl”, and pay frequently enough to reinforce the check-ins; I get plenty of them as a result. When passing near other dogs (a lot of whom are excitable and reactive), I draw them both to a sit front and pay and praise - they never “engage” with other dogs as a result, but remain calm and look at me. It’s a form of counter-conditioning, and I have also used it to train them to LOOK at me when they see a squirrel - and get chicken (or cheese) and PRAISE! Pull towards the squirrel? Uh, oh. You will now have to sit (or down) on the sidewalk for 15 seconds (no treats, no praise) because I am that cruel and heartless. You can see the wheels turning, and they almost always (the older one is 100%) CHOOSE to look at me.

You can pretty much counter-condition anything.

I a HUGE fan of the wonderful Patricia McConnell, and considering how often I recommend her both to students and online dog owners (I’m a member of five or six Whippet Groups on FB), I should apply for a job as her publicist, LOL! Her book “Feisty Fido” ($7 on Amazon and 45 pages long) outlines the counter conditioning protocol, and is a game changer for people with reactive dogs.

Punishment for reactivity is No Bueno, but correction and redirection is very effective for some dogs - and using a Gentle Leader or Halti can be a lifesaver while the dog is learning how to walk politely on lead; it’s a process, and the head halters are great “training wheels.”

Positive reinforcement is the name of the game since it’s so motivational! Finding the highest possible value treat is important too; something that they will do cartwheels for… :blush:

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When I walk my dog, I left him sniff things, it’s what dogs do. They read pee mails, and reply.

My boy is lucky though, we live on 4 ha so he gets plenty of time to go zoomies.

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That is the greatest description! I think of it as analogous to my time here on COTH. :slight_smile:

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That and leaving “pee mail messages.”

I know that some females mark (mine really don’t, my older female will very occasionally squat where another dog has peed, but the one year old never does), but OY the male dog marking issue - they are relentless!

This is basically the reason that I have vowed to only have females because it’s less frustrating to walk them. I’m willing to deal with the “Little Princess Syndrome” in return for no constant pee mails!

Plus the time it takes for my dog to decide exactly, precisely, how to construct the perfect reply pee mail. The one he is replying to has to be inspected with enormous care. If translated to English, these pee mails he’s going to answer must go on for pages and pages, it takes him so long to read them.

Then he has to select the one specific blade of grass, or leaf, or low bush limb to leave his reply. I estimate he has a 68-point checklist to review. I occasionally try to urge him to get on with things and get a smile and a quick tail-wag that he’s getting there - soon. It’s like waiting to hear back on a loan approval - soon! We’ll know soon! And just like the mortgage company, if he gets to point 59 out of the 68 approval points and that one doesn’t pass, oh boo, we have to start over again on the next blade of grass. Every single point has to pass rigid criteria.

But he does communicate during the process, if asked. That cheerful grin and quick tail wag acknowledge that, while he can’t hurry this, he knows I’m still alive and waiting. And waiting. And waiting …

You say females don’t do all this. Hmmm. Something to think about. :wink: