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How Do You Walk Your Dog?

A dog can enjoy their walks more through the use of scent.

Walking can, of course, provide benefits for both our health and our dogs health, but depending on how you walk, you can provide your dog with a whole new level of enrichment.

study by researchers at Michigan State University found that approximately 27% of dog owners walk their dogs. Of people who do walk their dogs regularly, 60% met the criteria for the recommended daily amounts of leisure-time physical activity (LPTA). This correlates with other studies that have found that dog walkers are much more likely to achieve the recommended goal of 150 minutes of walking per week compared to dog owners who did not walk their dogs, or to non-dog owners, and that getting a new dog led to longer and more numerous walks per week. This is great news for people who regularly walk their dogs, and the health benefits should encourage people who don't walk their dogs to do so more often.

When you walk your dog, however, do you go on a brisk no-nonsense walk? Or take more leisurely time and allow your dog explore his surroundings? In a blog by noted Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and author Patricia McConnell, she discusses the differences between primates and canines and how this leads to a disconnect when we walk our dogs. Humans tend to want to enjoy walking by moving forward, side by side to their dogs and enjoying the environment primarily through sight. Dogs, however, prefer to enjoy the world using their elevated sense of smell. In her work she notes that she often sees humans walking quickly and hurrying their dogs along when they stop to sniff, but this is when dogs are engaging in the world in their own special way!

A dog's sense of smell is important to its ability to understand and relate to its environment to other dogs. Dogs greet each other using smell as their first sense. A study of one-day old puppies found that if you put aniseed in the mother's food when she was still pregnant, the puppies preferred the scent of aniseed. This means the dogs can learn to associate scent with important elements in their environment before they are even out of the womb, which is remarkable. Dog olfaction has also been found to be lateral, such as the way humans think with their left and brain. Dogs use their right nostril when interacting with novel scents, and used their left with more familiar scents. If the smell aroused the dog, their left nostril took over.

So what does all this mean? Next time you take your dog for a walk, give them a chance to stop and sniff their environment before hurrying on your way, and remember scent is so important to how a dog perceives the world. Doing this can give the dog more mental enrichment during the walk as well as physical exercise.

Photo credit: Siberian Husky via photopin (license)


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