Contributed by Angie Lewis, President of Alaska Animal Advocates
We all know how devoted a dog is to sniffing, peeing and marking when he is being taken for a walk. Before you get too annoyed and are tempted to yank on the leash, remember, this is a walk for him as much as it is for you.
Dogs use their keen sense of smell to get as much information about the path you are taking as is possible. This walk is a means of communication that is as important to your dog as voicemail, Facebook or phone calls are to you. Dogs use their sense of smell to learn about the world around them, just as much as humans use their vision to learn about their world. Denying a dog the ability to sniff would be just like blindfolding a person when they are out walking.
This communication gives your dog information about the social status, gender, diet or health of other dogs who have marked the area. When your dog repeatedly urinates in various spots along the trail (scent-marking), he is exchanging information about himself as well.
Some dogs, mark directly on the spot that another dog has marked, called over-marking, while others, mark in close proximity to a previous mark which is adjacent-marking. Typically, both males and females will overmark, but often, dogs with lower status will adjacent-mark.
Studies have shown that small dogs scent-mark more than larger dogs and male dogs do so more than female dogs. This may be because they are able to avoid conflicts with this behavior, rather than with direct interactions with other dogs. There is less opportunity for conflict when your dog sniffs a spot along the walk and then scent marks it, rather than going up to a dog and sniffing his bottom – which can be risky business.
Although it often seems as though your dog is running amuck sniffing and urinating on every tree or rock, he is really making decisions about which scents are important to him and which he can ignore. Also, there might be less dog conflicts, particularly for leashed dog, if there could be more sniffing and scent-marking, rather than butt sniffing.
So, next time you are walking your canine friend, don’t be rude and let him communicate the way a dog is meant to exchange information. This might be a good time for you to text or call a friend!