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Animal behaviour expert Karen Wild on sniffing

Animal behaviour expert Karen Wild explains why it is so important to let your dog sniff things

Next time you are impatiently waiting for your dog to finish sniffing every lamppost or wall they meet, or for your cat to stop turning their nose up at some new tasty food you’ve chosen for them - think again.

Their senses are far more sensitive than ours. Are they telling us something with all the sniffing they are doing?

Smell is an important sense for dogs and cats, allowing them to explore and interpret their environment. It helps them to identify potential dangers, find food, and recognise friends and family members. Sniffing also helps cats and dogs to become familiar with their surroundings and learn about the people and animals that inhabit it.

Karen Wild
Karen Wild

Dogs have approximately 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, and cats have up to 200 million olfactory receptors. This is compared to only six million in humans.

Dogs and cats use this information to tell them about other animals, items in their environment, and even the emotions of their human companions. They can even detect changes in blood sugar levels, or illnesses such as cancer. Take a look at the charity Medical Detection Dogs’ amazing work, and don’t forget to make a donation whilst you’re there. A fantastic dog-human charity.

With their powerful noses, dogs can even sniff out explosives and drugs. Does this apply to our humble dog sitting on the sofa at home? Yes, very much so.

Teaching your dog to hunt using their nose can be a great way to mentally stimulate them and provide them with an enjoyable activity. Dogs can already hunt, in fact. What you are teaching them is that they tell you where things are, and you need to teach them which things to look for - and when.

To do this, start by teaching your dog to track a scent using treats or a toy they like. Begin by hiding the item in easy-to-find places, then gradually increase the difficulty of the hiding spots. You can also use different scents to challenge your dog further. Always remember to reward them when they locate the item, as this will help them build confidence and reinforce the behaviour so that they will want to work with you to do it again. With patience and practice, you and your pup will soon be an expert hunting team.

And how about ‘search and rescue’ fun at home? Your pet will be able to identify you by your unique scent, even if you have been away for a while. So, practise games like ‘hide and seek’, when you are out and about as well as at home. It’s a perfect training opportunity for your dog, and makes certain that both your dog, and your cat, will always know you are worth coming home to.

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