Dogs put up with a lot to accommodate themselves to our world. Yet in many ways we don’t consider a world in which they’d feel more comfortable. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s because we don’t automatically consider how their senses influence their experiences. With our dogs’ senses in mind, here are three ways to make living with us better.
1. Be patient about sniffing. How often does it seem like your dog has been sniffing the same blade of grass forever and you finally pull her along even though she isn’t done yet? We understand your impatience. But dragging away your pet before she’s done sniffing is like having an interesting magazine article snatched out of your hands before you can reach the end. Dogs see the world with their nostrils more than with their eyes. They have nearly 20 times more primary smell receptors in their noses than we do and can detect odors at concentrations at least 100 times less than we can — in some cases, a million times less.
They can also distinguish between scents much better than we can. On a trail “perfumed” with animal urine, garbage, and plant and tree odors, they can make out two to five human footprints and determine what direction the person walked in — 3 hours earlier!
So of course a dog needs time while outdoors to take in the odors of her world. She’s not trying to annoy you or test the limits by lingering. She’s just trying to “read the news.”
The solution here is to build another 10 minutes into your walks — perhaps 25 minutes instead of 15 or 20. Walk time is not just about whether she relieves herself. It’s about whether she has sufficient opportunity to explore her environment in the way that comes naturally to her.
2. Buy blue and yellow toys. Frisbees, balls, plush animals, and all other kinds of dog toys tend to come in a variety of colors. But keep in mind that dogs are color blind — they don’t see as much of the color spectrum as we do, and they don’t see it as vividly. The world looks more like the first 20 minutes of The Wizard of Oz to them than the rest of the movie. Thus, a red Frisbee on green grass isn’t going to stand out that much. But blue and yellow do pop for dogs. They’re on the part of the color spectrum that dogs perceive closer to the way we do.
3. Stroke the muzzle — soothingly. Lots of dogs enjoy a brisk rubdown or a spirited belly rub. But at the same time, they’re physically sensitive, especially on their faces. It makes sense. While our sense of touch is most acute at the tips of our fingers, on dogs it’s at the muzzle — the nose and mouth and the areas between and around them. That’s where canines have the most touch receptors. So to communicate especially tender affection, stroke your pet ever so gently on the side of the muzzle. She will really feel the love.