Whose Walk Is It Anyway
Imagine you're a child reading your favourite book and your mum grabs it away from you. Every night.
Or, you've stopped to look at the most beautiful sunset and someone keeps blocking your view.
Or you're reading your emails and just about to start on one from your best friend and the laptop is slammed shut.
This is what it must be like for dogs whose primary sense is their nose, every time we prevent them from sniffing when out on walks. Dogs learn so much about their world from sniffing. They can tell what has just been eaten, whether the dog they sniff is ill, in heat and what they ate. They can tell the mood of a dog from their scent. We prevent them gathering all this information when prevented from sniffing the grass, the lampposts, or from sniffing other dogs.
Ziggy stops and inhales the scent of a nearby poo. Jimmy ate whaaaat? Ow, that's painful she feels as her person drags her away shrieking, "That's disgusting!"
Hey, Olive may not be feeling well, her butt smells like... "Oi! We're not doing THAT!"
Ooh, ooh! A message from Rub on this bush, (our bush :)). Oh no, couldn't finish reading it again. Sorry, not able to reply either.
According to Alexandra Horowitz, author of Being a Dog, dogs are losing their sense of smell. As soon as we give them the opportunity, they're there sniffing, but in our overly controlling world where they have few chances to simply be dogs, we have forgotten, or never knew, how vital it is for their wellbeing to be allowed to sniff whenever they have the urge. We would be quite miserable if we were continually prevented from looking.
When people ask if a dog's nose is so powerful why do they need to go so close to a dog's butt? Horowitz answers when we go to see Van Gogh's painting of Starry Night, we study it closely, admiring each brush stroke. We don't look at it from 2 rooms away. And yes, she replies, to a dog's nose, another's butt can be as fascinating and alluring.
When Horowitz began taking her dog Finn to nose games classes, and he found her lost purse without her even asking him to look for it, she asks him poignantly, how much more do you know that we have no idea about?
We have largely forgotten that we have a fairly good sense of smell. Nothing like a dog's. Although Helen Keller who was born with the loss of two of her senses, had such a strong sense of smell, that she would know a person's profession by the odours they emitted.
Next time you're out walking with your dog, observe and take an interest in what she or he sniffs. Let her focus fully and absorb the richness of the scents. Even if you only walk 20 metres in half an hour. If that was your favourite book, a beautiful sunset, or your best friend's email, you'd want to stay there in that moment to absorb the experience fully. Wouldn't you? And you get the benefits of stopping, stilling and chilling.
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