Dedicated Sniff Zones

You have now learn't how awesome and powerful your puppy's nose is and all about their incredible sense of smell. Isn't it fascinating and mind-blowing?

Knowing this, it is paramount that you allow your puppy to be a dog and sniff. Otherwise it would be like me saying to you we are going to go sightseeing to the Grand Canyon - but you have to be blindfolded. It’s not fair for you to be blindfolded as I bask my eyes on the gloriousness of the earth's magic-fullness. 

 

So what is fair in terms of sniffing? Well, it’s incredibly important to let them sniff and discover that outside world. They see and absorb the world through their nose. But I also don't want a dog that assumes they can pull me to everything and anything to sniff. I like having my shoulder in it's socket and my walks not talking me a gazillion years. Boundaries are needed but it needs to be fair to both parties. 

Your job is to teach your dog that it's okay to sniff when appropriate but not all the time AND you’re not going to pull me somewhere to sniff, it is team work and we do it together. I can guarantee if you do allow your puppy to sniff no matter what - they will take advantage of this and pull you everywhere and zig zag in front of you at any given chance. You might tolerate it now but I can promise you in a couple of years you won't find taking your dog for a walk all that enjoyable.  

So what you’re going to do is give them dedicated sniffing time/s when you're out on your walk. For example; I aim to give my dog at-least 20 minutes worth of sniffing out of the total duration of our walk if it is longer than that say closer to an hour. If my walk is not longer, say it is a loop around the block because that is all I have time for today, than the walk is not for exercise and I will take her on a sniffari instead where my whole purpose for the walk is to allow her to sniff. 

 

How to teach Dedicated Sniff Zones.

Pick a section of your walk, say the 10m between a blue car and a red car parked on the street you’re walking your dog on. That’s just for this example, you can pick any two markers you like at any distance. Within this 10m is going to be your dog’s free sniff time and so as long as it is safe for them to do so, you are going to let your dog sniff whatever it wants for however long, within those two markers. Even if it means they stand and sniff one plant for 10 minutes. If you pull them away before they’re finished, it would be like me showing you the Grand Canyon, in person, for only 10 seconds. You’d be gutted. You’ve got to allow them the time as remember, this is how they see and learn about the world.

You need to be clear to your dog when you are transitioning from "walking time" to "sniff time". To do this I interrupt the two activities with a sit.

 

When I reach the start of my dedicated sniff zone I will stop and ask my dog for a sit (or now she now knows to automatically default sit if I stop and look to me) and then command for my dog to "Okay, sniff" or "Free sniff". You can use any command you want but just make sure that you use the same one consistantly so your dog learns the meaning. I also do a sweeping arm gesture in the direction I want her to move off in to sniff. 

When I reach the end of my dedicated sniff zone I will stop and again either ask or wait for my dog to naturally sit and look to me. Only once I have her attention do I step off into my walking time whilst I say the command "Let's go" or "Walking". Again you can use any command you want as long as you use the same one every time. Now that I am out of my dedicated sniff zone, if my dog goes to pull me somewhere I will just continue walking and not allow her to reach the spot she wants to get it (note the moment she sniff's that spot she wants to she has reinforced herself for that behaviour). Initially, as you continue to walk and your dog continues to try to get to where they want to sniff, naturally tension will form on the lead. That is okay. Do not pause if you feel it, do not yank your puppy, jerk your puppy, etc. instead continue to walk at the pace you are walking and to begin with that might mean they are trailing behind you and in a way you are softly pulling them. The moment you feel the tension on the lead loosen, bridge "yes" and walk another 5 steps before releasing the treat ideally whilst still walking. As they learn this and get better the moment they feel any tension they will slacken that lead and move towards you and with you and you won't need to pull them. 

It is important that you are always swapping up your dedicated sniff zones - distance, location, how many session per walk, etc. If you don't swap it up It would be like you watching the same news headlines over and over again. It becomes incredibly boring and you don’t learn anything new than the first time. 

A good little example of how your dog learns by sniffing would be if your puppy sniffed a plant for 10 minutes, taking in all that information. You then walk on and cross paths with someone also walking their dog. Your dog will catch the scent of the other dog and be like “oh, that’s Henry from the plant. I don’t really like Henry. I’ll stay away from Henry”. Sniffing actually helps teach them life skills, like who to and who not to interact with. The more you implement dedicated sniff zones, through time your dog will be less likely to pull you towards something as they have an understanding and trust that their will be an opportunity to sniff coming up.