Such a common scene is seeing people walk their dogs with their dog trying to sniff or scent and their person is trying to get their dog to walk, why are we not listening to our dogs and giving them this choice? Maybe they know more than we do what is good for them?
‘Exercising your dog’ is a statement that we are so familiar with and one that we mainly associate with ‘physical’ exercise. But how healthy is this form exercise we provide for our dogs?
As a Galen Myotherapist, I would estimate that most of the issues we see in dogs relates to inappropriate exercise. In my opinion this is from the type of formative exercise given to puppies, then extending to the damaging repetitive strain activities encouraged throughout their lives.
The priority of ‘exercising the dog’ appears to be focused on ‘tiring the dog out’ or ‘tiring the puppy out’, (all these expressions, in my opinion are awful!) Exercise appears to be concentrated on ensuring that the dog is physically tired, rather than it being a fulfilling experience.
So what do I mean by fulfilling? When we take out dogs out from their homes it is intended to be an enriching experience, therefore we should try and provide that for our dogs to enable them live within an enriched body and mind. But it appears to me that the ‘mind’ part of this activity is being over looked in so many cases.
Dogs are intelligent beings, with senses that exceed ours for recording their environment; yet we are not allowing them full access to information they would receive in the outside world and therefore restricting them achieving their fulfilment. It has been proved that dogs can scent particles hundreds of thousands of times more than humans (even millions); this is a really well known fact so why do we not actually allow them to ‘exercise’ this skill?
I am proposing that we start NOW to change how we think of exercising our dogs; let’s start using the expression a Sensory Amble© or something similar rather than ‘walk the dog’ that gives our dogs a chance to exercise fully.
The additional amazing benefit of giving your dog the choice to scent and sniff on their outing, it is also excellent physical exercise!
When a dog scents or sniffs they adopt a natural body position that enables good movement patterns. It helps to stretch out their spines and importantly their necks; by employing this body shape that enables their hind quarters to ‘engage’, meaning encouraging the muscles within their hind legs and pelvic region. This in turn helps to develop their ‘drive’ which comes from their hind quarters and this will take the excessive load off their forelimbs and neck that is so common from any weakness within their pelvic region. For this and so many other reasons this type of exercise specifically ideal for puppy’s, rehabilitation and veteran dogs that may be suffering with arthritis and general stiffness. My clients are often told ‘take a flask of tea or coffee and go and sit on a bench and allow your dog to mooch!’
Top international dog trainer and behaviourist Turid Rugaas is a total advocate of scenting and she and I have been working together over the last year or so to encourage this type of exercise from both a physical and physiological health perspectives.
We understand that in dogs their sense of smell is heightened but human studies also show how important our olfactory (smelling) sense is for our wellbeing:
Sensory experience is really important to a healthy human brain and we so often underestimate the power of smell. This is because the nerves that are stimulated by smell in our nose (olfactory neurons) terminate at the olfactory bulbs which are actually a part of limbic brain or emotional brain. These bulbs and are situated right by the part of the brain called the Hippocampus and Amydala which are responsible for detecting emotions, spatial orientation and memories. This is why a smell can be so evocative – such as when you walk past a bread factory and the smell transports you back to a childhood experience. Different smells have a very specific and powerful effect on our brain chemistry – and this can affect our mood, our sense of well-being and even sedate us. Simply changing the smells in an environment can have a major and rapid effect on our moods and emotions; in fact, new research suggests that your nose can outperform your eyes and ears. Your eyes can discriminate between several million colours and your ears about half a million tones, whereas, amazingly, your nose is can account for more than 1 trillion smells!
Maria Paviour is a Psychologist and Neuroscientist.
Brainy neuroscience for Engaged People – A Handbook for Neurochecmical Leadership (2015) Maria Paviour Published by Isiliver
Bushdid C, Magnasco MO, Vosshall LB, Keller A. Humans can discriminate more than 1 trillion olfactory stimuli. Science. 343(6177): 1370-2 (2014).
This subject something that I will be expanding on further in future articles and International seminars.