We have often said to let your dog sniff to his heart’s content while on walks because the aim for him isn’t to cover distance but to “read” his world, which he does with his nose. Now there’s proof that allowing a dog time to check things out with his nose during walks will actually put his heart at ease.
Researchers in France made the finding when they observed 61 dogs of all ages and sizes. The dogs’ pulse rate — the rate at which their hearts beat — went down every time they stopped to sniff. And the higher the intensity of the sniffing, the greater the pulse rate reduction, the implication being that they felt calmer when they were allowed to sniff things whose scents they found interesting rather than being yanked away. Pulse rate went down by as much as 20 percent.
Another finding: When the dogs were on long leashes that were about 16 feet in length, they sniffed almost three times as much, on average, as when they were on short leashes of only about 5 feet. And when they were able to walk outdoors unleashed, they sniffed even more. That is, the more agency a dog has to choose where he’s going to sniff, the longer he will do it. There truly is something calming for a dog about scoping out his world through scent.
What also decreased pulse rate, the researchers found, were full-body shake-outs that many dogs are prone to do. The dogs in the study tended to shake their bodies vigorously for a couple of seconds when their pulse rate was particularly high, and the action lowered the beating of their hearts by an average of 12 percent. (As with sniffing, the shake-outs occurred more frequently on longer leashes than shorter ones, and most often when a dog was unleashed.) Another way of putting it: full-body shake-outs are not merely some canine quirk. They help a dog self-regulate and become calmer.
The results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so they cannot be said to be in the realm of true scientific literature. But the observations of the researchers, both certified trainers, support the call to make sure your dog’s walk is at least as much for him as for you, if not more. Let him sniff rather than add steps to your Fitbit, and keep in mind that a walk outdoors is not just about a dog’s relieving himself. Give him an extra 5 or 10 minutes per outing to explore his world.