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Your dog probably wants to stop and sniff the roses so to speak on his walk. Should you let him?
When I’m taking my dogs on regular walks, I let them sniff occasionally. After all, I want them to enjoy the walk.
But what is a sniffari and how is it different. The dog essentially calls the shots regarding where we go.
In this blog post, I’ll describe what a sniffari is and why it’s an important addition to your dog’s life.
What Is a Sniffari?
In a nutshell, a sniffari is a walk where your dog is permitted–and encouraged–to explore his environment with his nose. It’s an on-lead exploration.
The word comes from the combination of “sniffing” and “safari.” It’s also called a decompression or sniffy walk.
Unlike a regular walk where the goal is exercise or to get somewhere we want him to go, on a sniffari, a dog is allowed to lead the way.
You let your dog set the pace and the direction. He’s encouraged to explore his environment. He decides what interests him.
He should be permitted to wander on-lead and roam at his own pace. There are usually many starts and pauses.
By contrast, on a regular leash walk, a dog generally walks at a steady pace with a few starts and stops to sniff. And to potty of course.
A sniffari can be an hour long or even 10 minutes if that’s all the time that’s available. But make sure that the length of the walk satisfies your dog’s desire to explore.
A few minutes wouldn’t be enough. And too long can lead to disinterest. Each dog’s an individual.
Benefits of a Sniffari
Sniffaris as well as regular, paced walks benefit both your dog’s need for physical and mental exercise.
After all, a dog has 300 million olfactory receptors in his nose compared to our six million. His sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours. I often say dogs have a “nose brain.”
But a sniffari has certain benefits not always found in regular walks, including:
- Helps a dog decompress
- Helps him make his own decisions
- Improves his quality of life
- Helps relieve boredom
- Builds confidence
- Uses his natural abilities to make sense of his world through scent
- Helps a dog know who and what has passed through the area and who he might encounter in the future
- Learns the hormonal state of other animals that have passed by
- Leads to a more optimistic, content dog
- Helps him be calmer
- Helps tire him out
- Helps a dog not be destructive afterwards
- Provides on-on-one bonding time
- And last, but certainly not least, dogs love the walk!
Equipment for a Sniffari
Just because a dog determines where to go in safe areas during a sniffari doesn’t mean that he can wander aimlessly off-lead.
Instead, it’s important for his safety that he be on-lead.
I recommend transporting him on a regular six-foot lead to the sniffing area. And putting him on a 10-foot lead for his exploration.
I don’t recommend flexi leashes as the handle is harder to maneuver and hold and many people and dogs have been injured on the cord that extends out from the plastic handle. Use a regular long line.
If he tends to pull or if he’s a smaller dog, a harness is preferable so that he doesn’t injure his throat or trachea.
In fact, if you have a high-drive dog, I recommend exercising him prior to his sniffari so that he doesn’t pull.
You can take him for a regular walk first or play fetch to take the edge off.
Some people have found it beneficial to use one piece of equipment for a regular walk and another one for a sniffari so that the dog understands what’s expected on his adventure.
Also bring non-perishable treats so that you can engage in some behaviors. You can have a treat pouch ready to go.
Factors To Consider for Your Sniffari
When deciding where to go on your adventure, there are many options. It’s important to consider the following factors when deciding the location:
- Animals and People. Don’t go to an area where there may be loose dogs or other animals that can interfere with your sniffari. Also, this isn’t a time for socialization with people. So go to an area where people are at a distance that won’t interfere with your dog’s sniffing. The area shouldn’t be crowded.
- Environmental Safety. Watch out for environmental risks such as foxtails, wildlife (snakes, porcupines, geese, deer, etc.), dirty water, and other potential dangers. Also, make sure that the area he sniffs doesn’t contain unsafe plants.
- Protection. Make sure that your dog is protected against ticks, fleas and other parasites. Do a body check after the sniffari. Check his whole body, including ears and paws for debris, ticks, and fleas. You may even need to use sun protection on your pup.
- Weather. Of course you shouldn’t go on the sniffari when it’s too hot or cold. A dog can suffer heat exhaustion. The brachycephalic breeds such as pekingese and shih tzus are particularly susceptible. And some outdoor dog breeds will be fine in cold weather. But you don’t want to take any dog out for too long in extreme weather or he can also suffer from frostbite. So you should take your dog at off times in hot weather, such as the early morning or evening. When the weather is too extreme, you can even have a mini sniffari inside.
- Plan Your Time. Of course, you probably don’t have an unlimited amount of time for your pup to go on his sniffari. So plan your time. If you have an hour, plan a route that will be enriching for that amount of time.
- Live in the Present. A sniffari should be fun. Enjoy the bonding time with your canine companion. Enjoy his taking the lead and excitement.
Where Should You Go on Your Sniffari?
The sky’s the limit where you can take your dog on a sniffari. Of course take into consideration the above factors. And the area you choose should allow dogs of course.
The area shouldn’t have grass or plants that are too high because those areas are likely to contain unsafe parasites and creatures (snakes, bugs, rats, etc.).
The following are possible venues for your adventure:
- Dog-friendly beaches
- Your neighborhood
- Parking lots
- A friend’s large yard
Any calm place where dogs are permitted and there are fun, safe materials to sniff can work.
I took my Lhasa apso Linkin on sniffaris. He was a very scared abused rescue when I adopted him.
Sniffaris gave him confidence and made the world less scary to him. Using his nose, he concentrated on the smells not on other things that may have scared him otherwise.
Potential Problems and Solutions
As is true of any undertaking with your pup, things can go wrong. Because a snifarri is new to most dogs, they will be uncertain about what’s allowed.
So you might have to teach a “sniff” cue to start the process. Of course, for many breeds such as some hounds and terriers, the first thing they want to do is sniff.
But other dogs such as a Lhasa apso or border collie probably won’t naturally start sniffing right away.
So you can teach a sniff cue. Have a few pieces of kibble and throw them down in the grass. Tell your pup to “sniff” and praise when he does.
Phase down to one piece of kibble and eventually none once he understands what “sniff” means.
Other Activities for the Sniffari
You can even perform some obedience cues during the sniffari. At the beginning of the sniffari, have your dog sit/stay, then do a recall.
Or a “puppy pushup”–sit/down/sit. Release your dog by giving a “sniff” cue. Then it’s time for your dog to go on his sniffari.
Other Types of Sniffaris
Try to take your dog on at least a weekly sniffari for his well-being.
But for times that you’re not able to do so or if the weather prohibits the excursion, there are other options for your dog to use his nose.
You can set up an indoor “mini-sniffari” hiding treats throughout various rooms.
Put a few under some pieces of furniture or wrapped in a towel placed on the floor. You just want him to use his nose and have fun.
I used to do this for my shih tzu Cuddles. She had so much fun sniffing around the room to discover the hidden treasure.
You can also engage in a more formal way for your pup to use his nose: canine nosework.
Like a sniffari, it helps with a dog’s confidence and helps keep him mentally and physically fit.
You start out inside with a small cardboard box the size of a shoebox where you hide a favorite toy with his and your scent. Or you can use a favorite treat.
Make sure that the dog isn’t in the room so that he doesn’t see where you’re placing the desired object.
At first, have a few boxes, only one containing the treat or toy. Don’t put the lid on the boxes in the beginning.
When the dog finds it, he gets a reward from the box. Do this a few times, then end the session.
After a few sessions over a few days, you can start to have the treat or toy in a closed box. Make a few holes in the lid of each box.
Place the object in the box and let your dog sniff around. When he sniffs the box with the treat, praise and reward.
It’s important to reward him from the box and let him eat it from there, not from your hand.
Just do a few short two-minute sessions in a row, then end.
Eventually, you can add more boxes with many empty ones with holes in the top and only one with the scented object.
Once he gets the idea in one room, spread them out to various rooms.
You can even get more formal and join a club where formal nosework is taught. Your dog can learn to sniff out various scents that are placed in various areas.
As your dog becomes proficient, he would be able to conduct indoor, outdoor, and even vehicle searches. Nosework is even a competitive sport.
My dog’s reactive to other dogs. Can he still go on a sniffari?
Yes! Reactive dogs can benefit from a sniffari because it helps focus them on the scents rather than the other dogs.
And it builds confidence and helps tire a dog out mentally and physically.
Just be sure to go to an area where there are no loose dogs and where any dogs or people are at a distance that your dog isn’t reactive.
If possible, go to a very calm area where it’s just the two of you to start so that he learns what a sniffari is about and can concentrate.
I have a beagle and his nose is always on the ground. Would a sniffari be good for him?
Yes! You can teach him a “sniff” cue to let him know when it’s alright to sniff.
Also work with his attention to you and loose leash walking and the heel cue as well as “leave it” so that he learns to keep his head up during a regular walk.
My dog gets bored on walks. Would a sniffari help?
Yes! Dogs naturally use their nose. Teach a “sniff” cue to let him know when it’s acceptable to sniff.
Also, take him on different routes for his walk to keep him interested. And take him to different safe locations for his sniffari.
Also do some obedience cues on his regular walks to engage his mind.
There are many physical and mental benefits to taking your dog on a sniffari. He naturally uses his nose to make sense of the world.
Your dog will be happier and less stressed. The bonding time will really benefit your relationship. And let’s not forget, sniffaris are fun!
Have you taken your dog on a sniffari?
Please tell us about it in the comments section below.
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