TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - I have an adopted dog named Ranger. He's a great dog, but walking him can be very frustrating because he obsessively smells everything. I feel like I'm constantly yanking the leash to get him to keep walking. What can I do to make our walks less of a battle?
- Ranger's Dog Walker
Dear Dog Walker,
It sounds like you and Ranger have different ideas about what constitutes a nice walk. A better understanding of your dog's sense of smell will help you appreciate why he stops so much during your walks. We have about six million scent receptors in our nose. A sheepdog has more than 200 million receptors and a beagle more than 300 million. Furthermore, dogs smell at a molecular level allowing them to dissect a complex odor into smaller parts. Alexandra Horowitz, author of "Inside of a Dog," offers the analogy that a dog can smell a teaspoon of sugar in one million gallons of water, the equivalent of two Olympic size pools!
When a dog is actively smelling something, their brain is fully engaged in the task at hand. During your walks, Ranger is checking out his environment through his nose. During your next walk, try to relax and put Ranger's nose to work. Take him on "smell walks" where you let him determine the pace and path of the walk in order to fully take in the environment. This could be the most fulfilling part of his day! If you don't have time for a leisurely walk, stop occasionally and let Ranger sniff. Teach a "let's go" cue to use when it's time to move on. Say "let's go" in a happy voice and when he looks up, reward him with a great treat.
You can also help Ranger use his nose around the house. Hide his morning kibble around the house instead of feeding it from a bowl. It will keep him busy and mentally active when you leave the house and he will likely need a good nap after finding all the food.
You can develop Ranger's natural scenting abilities through the sport of K9 Nosework. Nosework teaches a dog to find scents using increasingly difficult games. Dogs work one at a time, so even shy or reactive dogs can do it! No prior training is required and all you need is a few empty boxes to practice at home. Nosework classes are offered at The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center (www.thesavvydog.net)
- Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org