Why Do Dogs Sniff & Whiff?

Is your dog like a shopaholic at a rummage sale, smelling anything and everything that comes his way? Don't fret. Every dog knows the best way to get the neighborhood scoop is through his nose.

Something Smells Suspicious

From the moment Rob Gale of Bentonville, Arkansas, walks in his front door each night, his Jack Russell Terrier, Jenny, takes one whiff and knows precisely how his day went. "It's like she knows if I've had a stress-filled day or a mild one," Gale says. "If I've been put through the wringer, she wants to sit right on my lap. Otherwise, she goes about her own business." So is a dog's sense of smell so keen that it can detect emotions? When you walk in your front door and your dog is sniffing your hands or shoes, he's greeting you and investigating the unique scents you brushed against that day.

According to Bash Dibra, noted animal behaviorist and author of DogSpeak (Fireside, $13), "A dog's sense of smell is so acute because dogs have at least 25 times more olfactory (smell) receptors than humans." A dog's nose even can distinguish among the cheese, meat and ketchup on a cheeseburger. More importantly, dogs also can be trained for tracking, rescue or drug- and bomb-detection work.

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Whiffing Friends or Foes?

Of course, seeing a dog sniffing the sidewalk, the fire hydrant and other dogs may seem pointless to you, but it provides a wealth of information to your dog. Dogs have a need to know, and smelling is how they learn.

"Dogs smell each other and their secretions to monitor physiological and emotional changes," Dibra says. "It's like getting the morning paper or a hot-off-the-press tabloid."

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Tips for Taming the Psychotic Smeller

If sniffing becomes excessive for your dog, you may want to try these tips to keep his snout in sync:

  • Offer a diversion, like a chew toy or an awesome-smelling dog treat.
  • Teach him to use the crate, especially if smelling visitors is of high entertainment value to him.
  • Clap your hands and take charge with your leash when he sniffs other dogs inappropriately or excessively.
  • Give him plenty of exercise and attention.

For additional help understanding and taming your dog's sniffing behavior, visit the Web sites of the Cameron Park Veterinary Hospital, the Animal Behavior Center of New York and the American Dog Trainer's Network.

Read more about Dog Training.

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