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Sniff, Sniff - HOORAY!

You've got 10 minutes to walk the dog before you have to run to get the kids from school...

Your dog won't stop sniffing long enough to do his business....Your dog is reading his world, not trying to frustrate you.

Imagine you're reading a news headline like "Man Fall Down Well" or "School Closed Due to Mold" then, just as you were getting to the heart of the article, someone dragged you away and you never get to find out how this article pertains to you and your family. That’s just how it is for your dog when you yank him away from the mailbox, or lamp post after, you think, he's been sniffing forEVER. Why? Because while we read our world largely with our eyes, dogs read that same world with their noses!

By sniffing at a certain place for a time, dogs download messages left behind by other dogs. For example, anal gland secretions of a frightened dog will leave behind an odor that indicates fear, letting your dog know there’s danger ahead — maybe an aggressive neighboring dog, or a skunk under the deck next door. Or he picks up on a particular pheromone in another dog’s vaginal secretions, as well as urine. "Oh, I know her....her mom cuts my hair" I like her, all is well.

Dogs are particularly good at sorting out pheromone messages because they have something people don’t called the vomeronasal organ, or VNO in the roof of their mouths. It’s kind of like a nose within a nose and works as follows. A dog sniffs, say, a for sale sign and in a subtle move that most people miss, deposits some material from it onto the roof of her mouth. From there is goes into two ducts that lead to the VNO sensory endings. That’s how he gets the pheromone communication. It doesn’t really happen via traditional sniffing.

The VNO may be the reason dogs know to get so anxious as they approach the vet’s office. They could be downloading a large "file" of chemical signals from dogs who have been there previously and have undergone unpleasant injections, procedures and general unpleasantness. The VNO is also the reason why your dog can jump in the river and bring back the exact rock you just threw in.

Dogs use their noses to learn about their environment. Their olfactory sense, their first sense, is what they use to to learn about their environment. Their olfactory sense is much more powerful than ours. Consider these differences:

-If you were to smooth out the scenting membranes covering the bones in a human nose, the surface of those membranes would cover a thumbnail. Smooth out the same membranes in a dog’s nose, and they would cover a handkerchief! That's a big size difference!

-Dogs have nearly 20 times more primary smell receptors in their noses than humans do.

-Dogs are able to detect smells at concentrations a minimum of 100 times less than a person; in some cases, a million times less. (A dog can detect a human scent on a mug handle that was left outside for two weeks. (There’s a reason we trust sniffing dogs for jobs like drug detection, cancer, insulin drops, search & rescue, etc.)

The bottom line: taking your dog for walks is not just about getting him to do his business, or learn to walk on a lead without pulling. Sometimes it’s about just allowing him to explore his world, just the way you might stop to take a close look at something that hadn’t been there before — a sign on someone’s lawn from a landscaping company, making it clear that the overgrown lawn, weeds and neglect of he past will no longer be of concern and no longer bringing down your property value; and so on.

The next time he stops for what seems like forever, keep in mind that while it may make no sense to you, he’s taking in all the latest information in the 'hood'.

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