Smelly Delights

Bangalore Mirror Bureau | May 4, 2015, 08.35 PM IST

Dogs don’t act on the world by handling objects or by eyeballing them, as people might, or by pointing and asking others to act on the object (as the timid might); instead, they bravely stride right up to a new, unknown object, stretch their magnificent snouts within millimeters of it, and take a nice deep sniff,” writes Alexandra Horowitz in her book Inside of a Dog. I think this creates the perfect mental image of how our dogs see the world. The power of a dog’s nose opens up a whole new world for him that we are barely even aware of. We walk past this world in complete oblivion, while our dogs perceive this whole other world and interact in it too.

I have heard estimates that put a dog’s sense of smell anywhere between three thousand to thirty thousand times that of humans. Horowitz estimates that a Beagle’s sense of smell may even be millions of times more sensitive than ours. Can you then imagine how much of a dog’s brain is dedicated to the olfactory senses.

In her book, The Canine Kingdom of Scent, Anne Lil Kvam explains, “Imagine a beach 1,500 feet long, 150 feet wide and 40 inches deep. On this beach, a dog can find two grains of sand that smell differently. Incredible, isn’t it? Dogs I trained in Angola could find land mines hidden fifteen inches under the ground that were placed more than ten years ago. A South African colleague told me of a case where a dog was able to sniff out a mine which turned out to be a hundred feet away from where the dog was. And still we continue to wonder over Rambo’s restlessness when a bitch a couple of miles away is in heat.”

It’s no wonder when our dogs step out for a walk, there is a lot they want to sniff. The outside world is a treasure trove of scents. The scents are not only interesting, but they also contain vital social information for dogs. A dog sniffs the pee of another dog and gathers information including, but not limited to, the age, gender, stress levels, health, frequency of visit and interest in mating. Dogs are highly social animals and social information is very exciting to dogs. Often dogs will pee in response to all the information they gathered from the road – leaving behind a little social signature of their own.

Street dogs often have the luxury of engaging their ever-curious snouts in plenty of sniffing and information gathering. It’s the best kind of mental stimulation a dog can get. Our poor companion dogs are deprived of this joy. Whatever scents are left behind, we wipe it clean with disinfectant. While a dog’s nose is powerful enough to sniff through it, it’s just not so much fun to be sniffing in such strong disinfectants. So they often give up sniffing at home.

That does not mean the scents have to leave their lives. We can reintroduce the scents into their lives by using a little bit of our imagination. Walks are of course great sources for scents. So allow your dog the luxury of plenty of sniffing. 

If your dog is not really sniffing on his walks, it is perhaps due to some old habits that got built in inadvertently. Such dogs need to be encouraged a little. They need to be shown that it’s okay to sniff. I do this by carrying a few treats and scattering it on grassy patches or leaf piles encountered on walks.
A dog starts sniffing for the treats and soon enjoys the sniffing even without the treats. I also bring in interesting things from the outside world, for the dogs to sniff – twigs, coconut shells, stones, toys of other dogs etc. We have the luxury of travelling far and wide, at least from our dog’s perspective. We can at least bring back smelly souvenirs to brighten their day, can’t we? 

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