Why is my dog sniffing so much? Scent guide

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Why is my dog sniffing so much

I have to admit I’m quite lucky with Baloo as he’s a pretty low-key sniffer. But some dog owners might definitely be wondering: Why on earth is my dog sniffing so much?

Dogs absolutely love to sniff! Their nose is their most powerful organ, which is why they love to make good use of it. And who can blame them? If you could smell every single ingredient in a chocolate chip cookie, wouldn’t you want to sniff all day and night?

However, if your walks never go beyond the nearest corner because your dog is sniffing and marking like crazy, it can get quite annoying!

In order to change that, it’s important to understand why your dog is sniffing so much, first. So, here’s the short answer:

Dogs sniff for a number of different reasons. The most important is that it’s mentally enriching, as they can extract a lot of information from a smell. However, dogs might also sniff because they’re stressed, because they want to avoid a certain situation, or because they’re overtired.

Why is my dog sniffing so much?

To change your dog’s excessive sniffing, you should first understand why he might be doing it.

Your dog’s nose is his superpower!

As I’ve said before, your dog’s nose is basically his superpower. His sense of smell is up to 100,000 times stronger than ours. This is why they’re capable of sniffing out drugs, illnesses and why they can find a human just by sniffing a personal item.

There’s even a dog sport called Scent Work, where dogs have to find different things using their nose. Check it out:

On the other hand, your dog’s taste buds are much weaker than ours. He only has about 1,700 taste buds while we humans have about 9,000. I cover this topic in detail in my article about the question “do dogs get tired of the same food?”

And their eyes aren’t very strong either. The average dog only sees about a third as well as humans do. I guess Baloo must be a bit of an exception here, because he can see other dogs from about the same distance as I do …

Though they also have pretty good ears, dogs really “see” the world with their noses!

Sniffing is a natural behavior

As you can see, dogs were basically born to sniff!

It’s completely normal for dogs to sniff their complete surroundings. That includes every leaf on a bush, some other dog’s privates, potentially your privates… and sometimes also just the air, especially when another dog walked past.

Baloo is generally quite polite in that regard, but then he’s also too small to reach human private parts 😉 but one funny thing he does is that he sniffs my leg when I change my pants. This shows that he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on and he investigates my new legs by sniffing it.

You can see it a little in this video:

Sniffing is mental enrichment

Now, another important reason why dogs love to sniff is because it’s mental enrichment.

Sniffing on walks is basically the dog version of reading the papers or hearing the neighborhood gossip. Not only is it fun and entertaining, but it’s also relaxing and interesting. Who wouldn’t want to know the latest gossip of their furry neighborhood?

You can actually use this to your advantage. Sniffing provides mental stimulation for your dog, which helps him to get from hyper to relaxed in minutes!

In my article on the question “do dogs get tired?” I show you exactly how to use a walk to get a super chill dog!


Excessive sniffing can also be a sign of stress!

As I’ve just mentioned, sniffing is quite relaxing for dogs. So, when he’s feeling tense, sniffing can actually provide some release.

Plus, it can also act as a means of communication. For instance, if your dog is uncomfortable around strangers, he might sniff, in order to avoid contact to the person just approaching.

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Being overtired

Sniffing can also be a sign that your dog is overtired and needs a nap.

I regularly see that in Baloo when we do Agility training. After five or six rounds he starts sniffing and isn’t focused on me anymore. During the first few rounds, he never sniffs, even if another dog has marked somewhere (well, it happens sometimes) or if treats are lying around.

This is because he’s highly focused and excited. Once he gets tired, he loses that focus and gets distracted by all the smells. This is a very clear indicator for me that he’s had enough!

Make sure to check out my 10 signs and symptoms for an overtired dog to know how to react appropriately.

Can a dog sniff too much?

So generally, a sniffing dog is completely normal. However, if you feel like your dog isn’t doing anything else but sniffing as soon as he’s awake, that might be a sign that there’s something wrong.

The first step is to observe your dog to find out in which situations he is sniffing. Does it look like he’s using it as a way to avoid stress?

If so, try to meet him halfway. For instance, keep a good distance from strangers if he’s afraid of them.

In case your pup just loves to get a good whiff on your walks, it’s completely fine if he’s sniffing throughout your entire walk. It can be annoying though, so I’ll show you how to keep it in check further down.

Is sniffing good for dogs?

Yes, sniffing is definitely good for dogs. It’s basically effortless mental stimulation, which is great because it tires your dog out much faster than physical exercise.

This is particularly useful for hyperactive dogs. Because if you simply do physical exercise, you’ll only build up their stamina. That’s great if you want to take them hiking. But if you just want to have a relaxed pooch once you’re home, physical exercise alone just won’t cut it!

This is why I always highly recommend dog owners to provide some mental exercise for their dog.

As you can see in these 21 fun things to do with your dog at home, sniffing games are just perfect!

Even easier than that, which is also my preferred way, is to simply let him sniff on walks. This is almost a guarantee for a happy, chill dog!

I’ll show you how to let him sniff to a reasonable extent in just a second.

Why is my sniffing the air and looking up?

Dogs sometimes simply sniff the air. This is because scents are naturally also just hanging in the air.

Whenever Baloo does that, I know that another dog has just passed by. It gets particularly obvious because he’s also getting tense, as if he was expecting something.

If your dog is a hunting breed, it’s also possible that some other animal passed through here and he picked up its scent.

Some dogs also like to smell flowers

My dog is sniffing a lot – How do I get my dog to stop sniffing everything?

So, now that you know why dogs sniff and that a reasonable amount of sniffing can actually be very beneficial for your dog, let’s look at how you can limit it to a reasonable extent.

Of course, it’s not much fun having to be pulled around by your dog and then standing at one spot for basically the whole walk…

So, what I recommend doing is to train your dog for walks on your terms. This means that you let him sniff for a little while, then tell him to keep going. Plus, sniffing is only allowed if you tell him it’s okay to do so. For the rest of the time, he should walk to heel or just on a loose leash.

This makes sure that walks are on your terms, but he still gets his sniffing time, so you’re both happy!

Why is my do sniffing so much

Give him enough chances to sniff

In order to make this work, you do need to give your dog enough chances to sniff. You can basically use it as a reward or make one walk per day the “sniffy walk” and for the rest, he has to walk to heel.

Or you might have him walk to heel until you get to a particularly interesting smelling spot where he can mark as well. Then let him sniff that area for as long as he wants!

For those super sniffers, you might also want to consider doing nose work as dog sport. This will allow your pup to make full use of his nose by actually doing a job (finding the object).

Trust me, this will boost your dog’s self-confidence and will make him the happiest pooch on earth!

You can also try some scent games at home, for instance on a rainy day:

Train commands for walks

I highly recommend you train some commands for your walks. It just makes them so much more relaxing for you and your dog. Dogs love it when they know what’s going on. So, if you give them commands, they know what’s expected of them and can relax.

We use 3 commands together: heel, go sniff and go potty.

Since Baloo isn’t sniffing super extensively, our walks usually look like this:

He generally has to walk to heel on a loose leash but he’s always allowed to stop and sniff behind me.

So, sniffing acts as a reward for walking on a loose leash and not pulling forward. That has truly worked wonders for us!

If he wants to go on my other side or wants to sniff further back, he has to ask permission by looking at me. Then I just say “ok” (my cue for go sniff), which means he’s allowed to go to the yummy smelling point.

And last but not least I love the cue “go potty”.

I trained this when Baloo was a puppy, simply by always saying the cue when he was doing his business and praising him. Now it works at about four out of five times—sometimes he just really doesn’t have to go. So when I say the cue, he does number one, even if it’s just a little.

Such a helpful command when you want him to only go in a certain spot… or when you want him to go before bedtime!

Walk the same route over and over again

For those sniffers who really have their noses glued to the ground, commands might not do the job on their own. In this case, I recommend making your walk as boring as possible. How? Simply walk the same route over and over again, until he’s smelled every little bit of it!

He’ll probably still sniff a little, but much less over time.

Always praise your dog when he lifts his head to go on walking. Over time, he understands that a short sniff gets him praise more quickly. This should lead to significantly shorter sniffing sessions. Once you see progress, start only letting him sniff when you tell him it’s okay to do so.

The key is to do all of that on a boring route with no new smells or potentially very few smells at all, like the middle of the road in a quiet neighborhood.

This guarantees that there’s as little distraction as possible.

Use off-leash walks for sniffing

And one last great tip I can give you for those strong sniffers is to use off-leash walks for sniffing.

That’s one of my favorite ways to let Baloo have his fun. Again, he’s not allowed in front of me because I want to have control over him in case something’s approaching and I want him to walk to heel.

So when he’s behind me, he’s allowed to do whatever he wants, which acts as a reward for doing what I want him to do (that is, walking behind me).

This works just amazingly! He totally got the concept and very rarely walks in front of me which means we’re both happy!

However, it only works so well because he’s very focused on me and never goes very far. So, I basically don’t even have to look back because I know he’ll be just a few feet behind me. And he has a pretty strong recall, which is obviously essential for off-leash walks.

In case your dog’s recall isn’t that strong, you can also use a long leash to give him more freedom to sniff.

Why is my dog sniffing so much

Wrapping it up

So as you can see, the reason why your dog might be sniffing so much is most likely that it’s simply what dogs do!

Dogs pretty much “see” the world with their noses, which is why they want use their noses as much as possible.

If the sniffing gets a little too extreme, I highly recommend you make sure he actually gets enough time to use his sniffer (rather than trying to stop it entirely).

Then, reward the behavior you want from him and decide where he’s allowed to sniff, and where he has to walk to heel or simply stay next to you.

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