Let Sniffing Dogz Sniff

Emma and I have taken up meditation.

In fact, as I type this — two hours since our “session” — I can still feel the peace washing over me. The method is so simple and easy that if I weren’t feeling so Zen-calm right now, I’d chastise myself for being a moron:

When I take Emma out for her morning walk, I let her sniff. Her nose takes the lead, and together we zigzag and circle our way through the neighborhood.

Getting Emma to walk on a leash with us has been an exhausting process. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’ve made tremendous progress recently, but two problems still arise: 1) When Emma’s nose latches on to some intriguing smell, our sweet little girl leaves the building, and a whimpering, barking, pulling, nose-to-the-ground crazy chick takes over. 2) She freezes.

For the most part, these two things happen right around our home. (When we drive somewhere else to go for a walk, she is like a champion leash-walker.) Going out the front door makes her scared, so she freezes. And going out the back takes us close to the woods, where she turns into the Sniff Monster.

So taking Emma out on walks from our house has not historically been a relaxing activity.

After learning more about dog behavior this week through my Academy for Dog Trainers studies, I realized that I have never allowed Emma to follow her nose. I always knew that she was a scent hound and, thus, I should let Emma sniff along the way, but it was always on my route. Whenever Emma would start to stray from the path, I would say “Leave It,” so that she would come back over to me for a treat.

Plus, Emma gets so excited when she turns into Sniff Monster that Hubz and I thought it would make her even more excited and out of control if we let her nose call the shots.

But three days ago I decided to let Emma be Emma. Right out the door, she got to call the shots and dictate where we went. I would not say “leave it” or play the hand-touch game to get her to walk in a line with me. I was simply along for the ride with Emma, while her Nose led the way.

Emma immediately started walking down to the woods, and yes, the Sniff Monster showed up. We darted in and out and around and around like a pinball. We sniffed this bush and that tree and the bridge that Emma is usually scared to walk on (which she trotted over fearlessly), and so on. About 40 minutes later, she looked up to me to tell me she’d had her fill. We turned around and happily walked side-by-side back home.

Later that day when I wanted to go for a human-type walk (read: one that follows a straight line), Emma trotted next to me out the door and down the street.

Yesterday morning I unleashed the Nose again. I fully expected Emma to turn into Sniff Monster and go nuts in the woods again, but she didn’t. She quietly sniffed around for a few minutes and then made a u-turn to walk a new route — along the field behind my house.

This morning, she didn’t even head out back. Nose instead led us into the plant beds in the front and the side of our house. We’ve lived in this house for one year, and this morning was the first time I ever let Emma walk into those beds.

The whole time I thought that if I didn’t stop Emma from sniffing sniffing sniffing, she would become obsessed with sniffing and not pay attention to me. Like she’d stop being Emma and just become a feral dog.

I had it completely wrong. By letting Emma do what she was born and bred to do, we’re closer than ever.

Just imagine: It’s a gorgeous day. Seventy degrees and sunny with a soft breeze rustling through the leaves. The only sounds are birds singing, crickets, er, cricketing?, leaves rustling, and our six paws tromping through the grass. For twenty minutes or so, Emma explores a new area that she has never been allowed to sniff before. There is no tension on the leash, and I am not plying her with treats to “help” her overcome her fear of the neighborhood.

Emma just boldly goes where this beagle has never gone before.

I have enjoyed these walks so much, that I’m kinda itching to go back out again. Emma is sleeping with her Frog on the couch next to me, so she clearly isn’t up for a walk. I guess I’ll have to go eat some chocolate instead…

Do you ever give your dog’s nose full rein? (Ironic turn of phrase, no?) I’d love to hear about your adventures if so, and if not, would you be willing to give it a try?

Let sniffing dogz sniff!


14 comments on “Let Sniffing Dogz Sniff

  1. Love this post!

    Lily is the boss on our morning walk. She chooses where she wants to go and she gets to sniff wherever she wants to and after about 45 minutes she is pretty much done. Interesting that most mornings she prefers to head into our small town centre as opposed to the countryside? But on the days I work from home she seems to instinctively know that we have more time to head out on the longer routes??

    Interesting that she has her favourite places and routes that she prefers to check out regularly too – ‘ooh, there was some food on the floor here’ or ‘there was a cat there two weeks ago’ etc. Hunting memory? Sniff walks are totally zen and i would argue essential for her mental well being. The only rules are that she is not allowed to raid bins or rubbish – but I do let her sniff around them because as a natural scavenger she absolutely loves doing it!

    I let her sniff poop, the pee mail and am fascinated when she does her step checks (change of direction) to follow an interesting smell. After all, this is how she gathers her information – her umwelt.

    Great to hear all about Emma’s progress! How is the floor situation and separation anxiety? Any improvements?

    • Floor is a problem no more! It turned out that Emma was in pain. A couple of weeks ago it finally hit me that maybe something physical was causing her floor fear. It was. Both hips, her back, and her neck were inflamed. She’s had 3 cold laser treatments since (4th one is today), and she’s back trotting all around the house like a champ. I’m only sorry it took me so long to figure it out!

      With sep anx, we’re plateaued at 45 minutes. A wonderful problem to have! I’m hoping we can push past this soon, but I have so much more freedom than I’ve had for a very long time, that I’m not too concerned. Did you end up going to Malena’s workshop in Manchester?

      Lily is one lucky pup! I am truly stunned by how zen these walks are. I actually forgot to give Emma her Composure anti-anxiety chew this morning, but you would never have known it. She has been a doll all morning.

      • Oh wow! I just caught up with your post about Emma and pain. Well, now you know! Gosh, our dogs are communicating with us all the time aren’t they? Maybe the floor made her feel unsteady and unsafe? Amazing progress with Emma and SA too. You will be able to do some stuff now, like go for a run or go to the store without feeling anxious yourself! Unfortunately, work got in the way of Malena’s workshop. I would love to know how she got on and I am sure she will have got a good attendance.

  2. I always let each dog go their own way. I walk them separately because RB doesn’t like DQ (or Dekey) walking around her – she doesn’t like his leash getting near her. As he circles around, she’s afraid of becoming entangled. So I walk them separately…it’s good exercise for me, too!

    My big problem is that we’ve just had Dekey for a little over a year. His previous owner left him alone all day, in a crate. He is a Silky, and a little excitable. He never even barked when we first got him. Now he has no problem barking! He loved to play with RB from the start…but we also had a friend’s dog (Dex) at that time. Dex and DQ loved to play rough. RB would tire of the rough housing quickly (and let them know). We no longer have Dex, but DQ still likes to play a lot.

    I’ve never had the opportunity to take him to a doggie park, to learn how to play well with other dogs. Consequently, when we go on our walks and encounter other dogs, he runs to them, wagging his tail, and then goes into what I call “attack mode.” I really think that he just wants to play, but I’m afraid there will be a big fight, and he and the other dog might get hurt. He barks and pulls. I yank on the leash so hard, that sometimes he actually flies up in the air. I’ve tried keeping him behind me, as I bend down to pet the other dog. Sometimes he gets a little more calm…but mostly he barks and “attacka.”

    It’s similar with people…They think he;s so cute, they bend down and call him over. He wags his tail and happily trots over, but as he sniffs their outstretched hand, he starts the bark/attack mode. I’m afraid he might bite someone, so I pull him away.

    He”s a VERY affectionate (if a little hyper) dog. He knows the No command, but doesn’t always obey.
    I just want him to be able to play with other dogs and people, without worrying that someone might get hurt!!

    Appreciate any ideas!

    • There is a trainer in South Florida, Helen Verte (http://www.lovewagsatail.com), who I think could help you out. She’s a graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers and is highly regarded.

      There are absolutely things that you can do to make sure everyone is safe, healthy and happy around other dogs and people. Fear is the easiest thing to give to an animal and probably the hardest thing to get rid of (See: Emma the Anxious Beagle), so it is something you want to address as soon as possible. I’m still a student and have a lot to learn, so I don’t want to give you incomplete information, but Helen definitely has the skills and knowledge to help. This should be right up her alley.

    • Gail, sounds like DQ(?) is reactive – sorry to say but I have learned that leash corrections make this problem worse, so stop that asap – find away to distract and redirect him until you have reviewed and can implement the CARE Protocol for reactive dogs. Leash corrections are an adversive form of dog management – I haven’t leash-corrected my 80lb reactive lab in 2.5 years following this protocol. Our walks are much more enjoyable and our relationship has improved as we work together to help her get over her triggers.
      Good luck.

  3. I’ve just started doing this with my two, in a field not too far from my house. I put them on long lines and let them go for it. Maybel, the terrier, thinks the freedom is to die for. I laugh out loud watching her tail wag furiously when she’s on the scent of a varmint. She’d keep going for hours.. Doc doesn’t seem to care so much, surprising considering his obsession with the squirrels in the back yard. His “thing” seems to be momma time, especially figuring out how to get me to click and treat. That he could do for hours. I’m thrilled to have finally found something that truly does seem to wear May out. I love how different my kids are

    • Did the Academy inspire you to do this too? I’m yet to put Emma on a long line to let her go nuts. That’s next up! I think she’ll be in heaven.

  4. Dog’s brains and the structures in their heads and noses, are almost all given to olfacttion. All dogs love to sniff, investigate, hunt and find which is why Nosework is so popular. Noseorkcan be done inside, outside, near or far and helps dogs build confidence and focus. It’s a great activity for dogs and people who aren’t as mobile as they’d like to be, an excellent enrichment activity for shelter and fearful and reactive dogs and it’s very inexpensive and accessible. here’s a place where you can learn more about it: http://www.NACSW.net.

  5. Yes! Last night my dog led me through a neighborhood park, nose to the ground the whole time. The only limit I put on her was to prevent her from getting into some food on the ground. She likes it and it is very relaxing for me. We also cue the walks–your choice or my choice–so we both know what to expect.

    • We’ve been talking about cueing it like you do. I’m glad to hear that’s working for you.

      These “sniffaris”– as a friend recently called them– are transformative for Emma. She has so much more confidence and is a complete joy to walk with. I’m pretty stunned.

  6. I have always had beagles. There is nothing more joyful with these happy little hounds then the way they are on a trail (either real or imaginary). So glad I am not the only training enthusiast that enjoys just letting the little hound go!

    • I was inspired by a fellow Academy student who has three beagles of her own. After watching videos of them going on sniffaris where you could only see their tails popping up over the high brush, I knew Emma was missing out.

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