Dog’s Eye View: Conflicting priorities
We humans enjoy life through our eyes. That is our first choice in taking in any environment. Our canines see it through their complex ability to look with their nose. As we walk down the trail, we might smell the awakening pine trees along with the earth dust. Our dogs take in everything that crossed the path during the night, individual scents left by each critter, which direction they came from and what might be lurking nearby.
In the wild, an animal will hunt first with sight. They see it, they give chase. All the while their bodies are calculating calorie expenditure versus pursuit. We see films of the wolves giving chase to wild game, and if it takes too long, they will stop pursuit until the next opportunity. Calorie expenditure versus calorie consumption. So, eyes are the first choice in any hunt. It takes more calories to hunt with the nose. Why? Watch a dog on a scent trail. There is no such thing as a direct straight line to follow. Scent looks more like a plate of spaghetti rather than a driveway. It takes more calories to follow a scent trail. The body is taking in scent, head down, ground or air scenting, working the invisible trail left by its quarry.
When you take your dog on a leash walk, and he drags you to his favorite pee spot, he is already taking in what went on while he was gone and who’s who in the neighborhood. The conflict starts when you want to get your miles in, and he wants to read the Daily Growl. He also wants to leave pee mail so the next dog coming along knows he’s been there to leave his mark.
Since our column is called “A Dog’s Eye View,” I think it’s important to understand their perspective. In my experience, as a handler for my Team Ruby, in scent detection trials, I am a student watching her do her thing in a scent detection exercise. I must understand how she seeks the scent cone, observe her change of behavior as she picks up the trail and follows it to the scent source. It’s given me a new perspective on how I walk my dog in any given environment. I also have a better understanding of how important that sniffing aptitude is for any dog.
You don’t have to take up the sport to play scent games with your dog. Your ball crazy border collie can find her ball buried in 3 feet of snow. Take a pocket full of treats on your walk and play the find it game. Toss one out in front of your dog and say “find it” as he jumps on the treat. Over repetitions, you can toss one in the tall grass and watch him use his nose to locate the food. This game let’s your dog know that you are essential in the great outdoors. I play this game in the back yard with both of my dogs.
I like to use this human analogy to compare what our dog might experience when we drag him away from a scent because we want to get our miles in. Imagine this: Your favorite store is in front of you, Cabelas, Home Depot or REI. The biggest sale of the century is on today, but you are required to walk from the front door to the back door and exit the building without looking or touching anything. I’m pretty sure this might be what your dog feels like if you never let him stop and sniff.
Think about adding a few sniff breaks to your walk. That minute or two will give you a chance to stop and smell the flowers too.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.
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