Thursday, November 15, 2012

To sniff or not to sniff?

When you're out on walks, do you allow your dog to sniff willy-nilly?

Do you use sniffing as a reward?

Do you say no sniffing, no how?

I do all three, depending on the situation. Sounds confusing? Elka mostly has it straight. I've come to my criteria as we grew together.

See, if I let her, while we're on the 4 foot leash on the sidewalk, Elka will drag me to a street sign or a bush to smell. Or, she'll wait until we've almost passed it and stop dead in her tracks, as though she's suddenly tossed an anchor onto the sidewalk, which obviously brings me up short.

As a result, when we're on the sidewalk, preferably loose leash walking, I typically do not allow Elka to sniff. At the beginning of the walk, where all the world is new again and super exciting, I will allow sniffing as a reward. If she does not pull, if she does not pull up short, the very next one (and there's always  a very next one) I say "go see".I just never used "sniff" as a word with her, so that's why "go sniff" isn't the cue. "Go see" just means "check it out" or "investigate". I also use it if she thinks something outside the window requires her attention, or if she wants to meet somebody. She sniffs for a bit, I say "all done" and we continue on. The short leash portions of our walk are kind of the "obedience" portions. We work on an automatic sit, I'll randomly down her, we use "wait" at every street crossing whether there is traffic or not.

In the park, however, on the long line, it's a different matter. The rules are different there; essentially, we keep moving, I (still) don't want any pulling, and I want a solid recall (different treats from the "loose leash" treats are in my pocket, and I also carry a tiny squeaky toy). If she wants to wander hither and yon, sniffing at the park, that's fine. But she will not pull me, she will keep up, and she will recall. It works out pretty well, actually.

(I'm going to start calling all my pictures like this "recall butt")

I haven't done any sort of scientific observation regarding this yet, but it seems like Elka is calmer when she sees/encounters other dogs if I've allowed her to sniff. Does anybody with dog reactive dogs (or undersocialized dogs, like mine) notice this? Or am I just making it up in my head? As we know, I'm fond of writing stories.

I'm interested in your responses!


  1. My guys aren't allowed to sniff if we're moving--a good percent of the time we've got a pack, so if they all got to sniff we'd never get anywhere! They get breaks to sniff and go do their business at the beginning and end of the walks (plus Kaline gets a break in the middle if he indicates he has a pressing ... need). At the pace we walk, they don't really have time to sniff; cues are "leave it" and "face off the ground!" if they try, lol. Their cue that they can go investigate things is either "break" for a general sniff & pee, or "go see" if they're uncertain about something and I'm giving them a chance to go check it out and realize it's no biggie.

  2. I like most of mine and Elli's walks to be pretty much rule-free. I feel like it gives her a little more autonomy than she would normally get if I required the type of heeling I like to see because we're involved in comp. obedience.

    I've found that if she's allowed to take her time and sniff the whole world, drop stuff when asked, keep a relatively loose lead, wait when asked, come into my right side position when asked, then when we actually make it to the park, I can drill obedience (with her ball - hidden) without her barking like a maddog at me or refusing to engage with me in play because she's so preoccupied with her nose.

    Before I started the rule-free(ish) and was reinforcing her not-so-attentive or close heeling every now and again and requiring it more than I let her explore the world she best knows how... she ended up really stressed by the time we got to our destination. then she'd have to run it off (leaving me behind) or bark it off or forge out of correct heel position to the point that I would end up really frustrated with her insanity.

    1. That is really smart training! I never thought about it that way but I think you are on to something. No doubt this is part of the reason why my dog runs off on the agility course so much, because I've been so rigid with the rules beforehand while in a high-intensity environment. If only I could let her sniff as she pleases before we get to the start-line. Unfortunately, it's just not possible. I'll have to think on this. Thanks!

  3. Most my walks are rule-free, but sadly it isn't allowed to sniff everywhere ;o)

  4. I like to sniff, but if the good smell is at the edge of the pavement or in someone's way then I'm not allowed :-(

  5. We do two different walks. I call them the "sniff walk" and the "exercise walk." When we're out for the sniff walk, I sort of follow along behind them, letting their nose guide our walks. If they pull, we stop and wait, but mostly I let them decide where we go on a sniff walk. On an exercise walk, I keep them close to me and we don't stop and sniff anything. The goal of the exercise walk is just to burn some energy. Lucas, my dog reactive dog, seems to confirm your theory: When we're on a sniff walk, he does a better job ignoring other dogs than when we're trying to do a focused walk. I need to put some thought into why that is... Thanks for bringing up an interesting question!!

  6. I've been so back and forth about this but I usually let my dog sniff while we walk. I used to keep it to a minimum and only let her sniff during permitted intervals but now as long as she isn't pulling me, I don't mind if she spends the entire walk with her head down. When I walk with my dog I am walking more for her benefit than for mine. If she wants to spend the whole 45 minutes sniffing at the same tree, it's her perogative. Again, as long as she isn't tugging me to the tree, it's all good.

    I do think sniffing helps her deal with her reactivity. In many ways it is a displacement/appeasement behaviour. Because Shiva is more reactive with people than with other dogs, I've noticed that when she sees a person approaching us, she will start sniffing almost right away, as if to help herself relax or to send the person a message that she means no harm. This could just be be guessing but whatever keeps her from barking and lunging is okay by me!

    My husband is much more structured with her when he walks and tends not to let her sniff as much. She seems to know the difference and behaves differently with him when they are out. Apparently I am the lenient sucker. :-P

  7. Walking four little guys i pretty much give them all the sniffing time they need. Actually you could say we go for a sniff instead of a walk. The yard is for exercise and elimination. The neighborhood is for gathering news.

  8. only allowed to sniff when mom says! Say what!
    Benny & Lily

  9. Georgia gets to sniff and run free in the parks. On leash, she is allowed limited sniffing like Elka. When she was younger, she was very scent oriented (being a pigdog) and would walk nose to ground almost from the moment we left the front yard. We had to stop that behaviour because if she caught a scent, she would take off, pulling us behind her. Like Kristine and her PH, one of us is much more lenient with Georgia sniffing and it ain't me! I haven't noticed if it calms her down but exploration and sniffing is a big and essential part of a dog's life, so it's possible.

  10. Mom lets me sniff as long as I am not pulling. Pulling means I have to wear my Gentle Leader until I pay attention again, and I kind of hate my Gentle Leader. So I can sniff as long as I don't rush ahead or drag along behind.

    But when we go to the dog run I get free time so I can spend as much time sniffing as I want :)

  11. No sniffing for mine when I walk them. They are to walk at heel. I do let them sniff if I notice that they need to potty. Then they get a little more leeway. I treat walks like work. They practice heel and are not to pull. But remember they use their nose a lot for hunting and training and have freedom to sniff in our yard so they are not deprived.

  12. Having two bassets, their noses are always on the ground. They are second to the blood hound for having the most sensitive noses. :)

  13. I love everyone. Sniffing other dogs is natural so I do it and mom lets me if they seem nice. Now onto this sniffing while on a leash business. Generally mother drags me when I stop to sniff something. But I am not a very bright dog I must admit and fixate on the STUPIDESTESTEST things EVER!


  14. We try to mix it up. But I try to allow Honey to follow her nose as much as possible. After all, her sense of smell is as important to her as our eyesight is to us. I can't imagine how I'd feel if I had to walk blindfolded.