Smells Like Spring in Quebec

Smells Like Spring in Quebec

Article and photo courtesy of Nancy Tucker

Springtime.   I don’t need a calendar to tell me it’s just around the corner.  I can tell.  The snow is heavier, packed down and melting slowly.  I’m wearing lighter coats and gloves.  The birds are singing a bit more.  The stores are already selling BBQ’s and swimsuits.  And my dog’s nose has gone into turbo.

Walking a dog during the onset of Spring requires a lot of patience.  There’s a lot of stop-n-go, and even more stop-n-sniff.  So many new odours are wafting through the air, on the ground, on the lampposts and fire hydrants, and in the bushes!  But I don’t mind the interruptions.  In fact, I like to encourage all that sniffing.  Dogs live for moments like these, when a single twig sticking out of a patch of snow can provide an abundance of information for them and inspire a full three minutes of careful investigating with their nose.

Dogs are built to explore their world through scent.  They’re gifted with a magnificent sense of smell thousands of times more powerful than ours and an anatomy that promotes walking with their head hung low towards the ground, nose fully engaged.

That’s what walking the dog is all about, really.  It actually doesn’t provide them with all that much physical exercise.  Sure, it gets them off the couch and moving around, but while on-leash, they’re obliged to walk at our human walking speed, which it turns out is much slower than a dog’s natural gait.  And then to make matters worse, we insist they stay close to us and keep their head up.  What a bore!   Is it any wonder dogs pull like crazy on leash?  It’s good to teach dogs to walk politely on leash, but to expect them to heel for a 45-minute stroll is, well, expecting too much.

If you want to make your dog-walking experience more enjoyable for both you and your dog, relax the rules a little.  Don’t worry about looking picture-perfect, with your dog to your left, walking side-by-side with no interruptions or distractions.  That’s fantastic in the competition ring, and heeling certainly is a useful behaviour to teach your dog so that you can use it temporarily, like when crossing the street or walking on a crowded path or sidewalk.  But otherwise, if you loosen the restrictions and let your dog be a dog, you’ll both benefit.

What dogs really need to do is follow their nose.  Trot, sniff, stop and inspect, move on.  Trot, sniff, trot some more, wait… wait… circle back!  Inspect, lift a front paw, inhale deeply.  Sniff some more.  Pee.  Move on.

What do dogs get out of this then, if not physical exercise?  Ah, they get plenty!  They get mental stimulation, for starters.  Getting the opportunity to smell everything in their path is like allowing them to read several of their favourite magazines and newspapers at once.  They get to gather important information, like “Who was here before me?  Was it another dog?  Another animal?  A human, an insect?  How long ago? How big are they?  Hey, I know that dog!”

And those times when your dog is carefully inspecting a spot that’s been, um, “visited” by several other dogs, he’s basically sifting through all the doggie business cards that were left there, and if he so chooses, he might leave his own card before he moves on.

By allowing your dog to sniff to his little heart’s content, you’re also tiring him out much more efficiently than by simply walking.  That’s right.  Sniffing outperforms walking in the fatigue department.  Here’s a little trivial gem that many dog owners aren’t aware of:  Fifteen minutes of nose work is, to your dog, the equivalent of about one hour of physical exercise.  Yep.  Sniffing and analyzing is tiring work!  Of course, your dog does indeed need daily physical exercise to maintain his health, and that can be accomplished in any number of ways.  But if you want to enjoy a leisurely stroll with him, rest assured that if you let him point his snout to the ground and pause with him while he investigates something he’s found interesting, you’ll have a tired, content dog when you return home.

So while Springtime in Quebec still looks an awful lot like winter to us humans, your dog sees it quite differently.  To him, the whole world has come alive with odours just begging to be investigated.

In the end, remember that going for a walk with your dog without letting him sniff is akin to your being taken out for a scenic drive, but asked to keep your eyes shut.  And really, what’s the point of that?

©Nancy Tucker 2013
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About the author:

Nancy Tucker is a dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Sherbrooke, Quebec.  Born in Drummondville and raised in the Eastern Townships, she is one of only two trainers in the province to have obtained CPDT-KA certification (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed).   Nancy does private in-home training and behaviour modification, and gives seminars and workshops throughout Quebec and the U.S. in both French and English.  She is a professional member of the APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers) and a charter member of the Pet Professional Guild, an association promoting force-free training methods.  She shares her home with her husband Tom, teen stepson Matthew, and a spunky red-headed hound mix named Chili.

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