An expert explains how, like humans, our pets need mental and physical exercise.

By Roxanna Coldiron
March 19, 2021

Unlike cats that can thrive in an indoor-only environment, dogs need to walk on a daily basis. This outdoor exercise is good for their health and helps them to work off excess energy. It also gives them an opportunity to engage in their natural instincts, including sniffing the world around them—and this is why we should let them stop and smell along the way. "Dogs were born to sniff! They have adapted mastery sniffing and sensory abilities over thousands of years and use it to investigate their surroundings," explains Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, DVM, medical director and veterinarian at Bond Vet. "From sniffing a tree to another dog's rump, our furry friends spend time sniffing things as a way to either distinguish its components or gather information about its environment."

Here, we asked Dr. Fadl to further explain the science of your dog's sniffing habit.

french bull dog on walk sniffing ground
Credit: gollykim / Getty Images

About Your Dog's Nose

The nose of your canine friend is designed to sniff. "A dog's sense of smell is almost 10 times stronger than that of a human," Dr. Fadl says. "While humans rely on their vision, smell is a dog's predominant sense. Dogs have a sophisticated olfactory system, one that allow them to process information through the process of smell." It's called the olfactory recess and it takes up more than half of the dog's nose, as Dr. Fadl explains—something humans do not possess.

Researchers found that smells are taken in one at a time into separate chambers within this olfactory recess and that contributes to the fine-tuned process of identifying individual scents in the environment. You may not be able to smell the leftover cheese from a long ago pizza on the sidewalk or that another dog had sat in a particular spot, but your dog would be able to sniff out those details.

How to Walk Your Dog

When planning to go on a walk, make time for stopping along the way so that your dog can sniff his surroundings. "We should allow our dogs to be 'nosey,' and investigate the world around them. Sniffing is the way they parse information. Sniffing can also be a display of nervousness or stress, so always supervise your pet during walks," says Dr. Fadl. "Green and grassy parks are heaven on earth for our canine companions. Parks with large meadows, lawns, or even gardens can offer an interesting and safe place for dog's to use their mastery sniffing abilities. When visiting a garden space, please be aware of potential insects, plants, or flowers that could pose a risk to your pet."

Find safe and interesting places to take your dogs on walks that can give them the space to smell the world, lots of room to run around, and protection from harmful things. Sniffing the environment is part of your dog's experience of the world—and we should give our pets the space to be their own authentic selves, embracing their nature and their instincts.

Comments (5)

July 6, 2021
I love this article, this is so important for dogs. I see so many dog owners who rush their dogs in and out and they need to read their surroundings and learn about their area for their health and well-being.
July 6, 2021
I love this article, this is so important for dogs. I see so many dog owners who rush their dogs in and out and they need to read their surroundings and learn about their area for their health and well-being.
June 2, 2021
To clarify - there are 'structured and 'unstructured' walks - during a structured walk you are actively training and the dog should not sniff, nor pee/mark etc. I do not allow my dog to stop and sniff/pee on every item he wants to while in a town or urban environment. Even a crowded outdoor walk is not an invitation to pee all over just because other dogs have. When released from structured walking, and in unstructured walking, he can sniff but not cause that activity to pull the leash, etc. He can sniff but I'll talk to him about not marking inappropriate things. so yes, agreed, dogs should get to sniff during walks but generally only on an unstructured walk.
May 2, 2021
Thank you for saying this. I have a sweet, smart, obedient, senior rescue...pretty much perfect lab mix. We walk every day and mix it up: early morning, farm, park, trail, woods, lake, etc. We have been together a longtime,both are seniors, taken classes, joined a Metro Mutts club, socialize with others. She can trek off leash, will stop when told, and follows many commands. But the majority of our outdoor time together is sniffing-her, looking, following sounds and smells, watching animal action and I must add, me softly putting it into words at times. I think this has made her probably one of the most intelligent creatures I have ever met.
April 21, 2021
I agree. I once had a neighbor who would pull her dog away from any sniffing and she complained that he was bad at home, peed and pooped in the house, etc. I told her I thought he was angry with her for limiting his sniffing and to change that. She gave it a shot and lo and behold, she thanked me because it worked, he stopped messing in the house.