Dog Sniffing Explained!

Is your dog sniffing all the time you're out walking? 

Do you manage two steps forward and three steps back? Does this sound familiar?

All dogs sniff, but do you know why? And is it good for him, or should you be trying to get him to stop? Read on to find out more about sniffing dogs.

Golden cocker spaniel puppy sniffing the floorSniffing is what I do best!

Is Your Dog Sniffing Non-Stop?

It's a fact; dogs sniff! 

Dog sniffing is perfectly normal behaviour, however depending on how frantic his sniffing becomes, it can sometimes drive you mad!

Well, there's a good reason why your Cocker Spaniel sniffs so much. Let's take a look.

Sniffing Is Information Gathering!

Dogs don't use their eyes in the way we do to learn what's going on around them; they use their finely-tuned noses instead, hence the excessive sniffing.

To say your dog's sense of smell is superior to ours is a gross understatement. Your dog's nose can pick up a scent 10,000 or more times better than you, and they can analyse aromas and smells up to 40 times better than we can. 

So if you have a treat hidden in your pocket, your dog will know it's there, I guarantee it!

I guess this extra keen sense of smell explains why, even though my dog is blind and deaf, AND WHEN HE'S ASLEEP, he still knows the exact moment I open a crisp packet!

When you see your dog sniffing the ground, a lamppost, a tuft of grass, or the air, you can be sure he's using his very keen sense of smell to learn about his surroundings.

He's gathering information, which he then processes to find out which dogs are, or have been, in the area, whether they're friendly or not, whether they're healthy, in-season (females) or have an illness.

He does this by separating and decoding the pheromones and scents from pee and poop left by neighbourhood dogs and odours from humans and small critters to help him build up a picture of who or what has been wandering along this route.

Golden cocker spaniel sniffing the grassI love to sniff, sniff, sniff!

Sniffer Dogs

Because of this sharp sense of smell, dogs are often trained to sniff out drugs, cash, and explosives, to name just a few. Sniffer dogs are also used by search and rescue, the police, the list is endless.

Cockers have also been used to sniff out illnesses, such as cancer, Malaria, and Parkinson's. If you'd like to read more about how dogs can help with diagnosing diseases, I think you'll find this article from Understanding Animal Research very interesting.

Benefits of Dog Sniffing!

Cocker Spaniels love nothing more than rooting around in the grass, moving from one doggie sniff to the next!

However, excessive dog sniffing may be a cause for concern for some of our visitors (and other dog owners). 

My research suggests that sniffing isn't harmful, in fact it can be beneficial to your dog's health and wellbeing.  

Dog Sniffing Can Be Calming And Can Help Reduce Anxiety

Dogs sniff because it makes them happy!

Sniffing produces feel-good hormones, which make your dog feel happy and help relax and calm your dog.

If you watch your dog closely or other dogs in the park, you may notice that some dogs are reluctant to greet other dogs in the usual way.

Instead, they feign disinterest and begin to sniff the grass. This may well be the sign of a dog that is nervous or anxious.

Sniffing Exercises Your Dog's Mind

The act of sniffing and decoding other doggie smells will help to stimulate your pet's mind.

He's working out what he can smell, what it's made up of, how long it's been there, what (or who) left the scent, etc.

All this 'thinking' is very good for him. His walk may give him the physical exercise he needs, but sniffing exercises his brain, giving him much-needed mental stimulation.

A nervous or anxious dog will often sniff more than usual. Perhaps this is nature's way of helping to calm him?

Now we know that dog sniffing is beneficial to your pooch's health and well-being. The next time you're taking your Cocker Spaniel for a walk, have a little patience and let your dog smell the bunnies!

This close-up headshot is of a golden cocker puppy sleeping.Sniffing helps to calm and relax the mind!

Let Your Dog Do What Comes Naturally!

Dog Sniffing Indoors

Max loves sniffing out treats, so when we're at home, I often throw a few pieces of kibble around the room and tell him to 'go find it'!

Just watching him do this melts my heart.

His nose is to the ground, and his stubby little tail is wagging so hard.

Sniffing out the pieces of kibble keeps him occupied for a while, and I know he's a happy boy!

Dog Sniffing Outdoors

Max has always enjoyed sniffing, especially when we're out on our daily walks. He loves nothing more, well, perhaps food!

I've always allowed him to indulge in his dog sniffing rituals for a few minutes during each of his hourly walks. I would give him an instruction, 'go sniff,' and off he'd go, nose to the ground, bum in the air, sniff, sniff, sniffing!

I would wander slowly behind him, listening to my music on my earbuds, chilling, or I'd plan daily meals for the coming week and build a mental shopping list.

When his time was up, I'd give him another instruction, 'time to go!' and we'd carry on with our walk.

Excessive Dog Sniffing

Fast forward a good few years, and Max is now 14-years-old, blind, deaf, and suffering from dementia. The poor little boy. He now has to rely on his nose, even more, to understand what's going on around him.

Over the past couple of years, I have noticed him becoming anxious and nervous.

He has become very focused on sniffing. He's no longer interested in his walk; he just wants to stop and sniff! It's all he seems to want to do.

It was beginning to drive me mad because we never seemed to get anywhere. It would result in our usual hourly walk being reduced to 30 minutes walking and 30 minutes sniffing.

While he was sniffing, he wasn't walking briskly, which meant neither was I, resulting in both of us putting on a few pounds!

I suspect that his becoming deaf and blind was causing him some degree of anxiety, and I think this is why he had become more interested in sniffing.

I knew sniffing was beneficial for Max, but I wanted to understand why he was sniffing more than ever.

After doing some research, my suspicion was confirmed, in that anxious or nervous dogs would sniff excessively, to the point it would drive their owners crazy!

Bingo!

Perhaps dog sniffing is instinctual because sniffing has a calming effect? Who knows?

I still give Max his two one-hour walks each day (with two 10-minute sniff breaks) to ensure he's getting the exercise he needs, but he mostly strolls these days because of his age. That's okay with me, poor old boy.

Weather permitting, I also give him an additional 20-minute 'dog sniffing wander' to help reduce his anxiety.

Unfortunately, my little man can no longer hear my instructions, so a gentle tug on the lead is all I can do to get him to stop sniffing and re-start walking.

Fortunately, it works just as well, for most of the time!

Dog Sniffing: Summary

We know that keeping your dog well exercised, both physically and mentally, can have a positive visible effect on his behaviour.

We also see that sniffing gives your dog a mental workout. Allowing your Cocker Spaniel to free-sniff for the first and last 100 metres of his walk will help to make your pooch a happier, more relaxed and calm Cocker Spaniel.

One word of caution, though. You don't want your dog to accidentally poison himself! Be vigilant during your dog's sniff-fest; be on the lookout for poisonous plants, insects, spoiled food, etc.

If you have the time, let your dog sniff until his heart's content!

Visitor Questions About Dog Sniffing

I decided to write a page about dog sniffing because I had received many questions about their dog's sniffing habits from our visitors.

Here are a couple of questions and comments from our visitors:

Dog Sniffing Non-Stop!

Hi, My cocker spaniel has just turned one and started sniffing excessively. It's been two weeks now.

He runs around our garden, sniffing and has no interest in anything.

When he is out walking, he sniffs non-stop. He used to play with other dogs and listen to me; now, he isn't bothered about the dogs and ignores me because he only wants to sniff.

What should I do about his dog sniffing? Is it a problem?

I'm worried about him?

By: Jake
Nottingham

Answer from Pauline (Website Owner)

Hi Jake,

Sniffing is what Cocker Spaniels do best!

When they're sniffing, they're searching for scents; evidence that some other dog or animal has been, or is, in the area.

They use scent to communicate; for example, a bitch in heat shares this fact with pheromones and a dog can pick this up from quite a distance!

Dogs mark their territory, and other dog's sniffing will either walk on (subservient in nature) or will urinate (more dominant in personality) in a bid to mask the smell with its own.

So you see, it's pretty natural for dogs to sniff.

Perhaps your dog's crazy sniffing is because he's found the scent of another animal, for example, a badger or a fox.

If my Cocker Spaniel gets the scent of a pheasant, for example, off, he goes, and there's no calling him back - no matter how well he's trained!

I just have to wait it out - eventually, he comes back.

Make sure you allow your Cocker Spaniel to have a few minutes sniffing each time you take him for a walk. Let him 'get it out of his system' and I think you'll soon see a more relaxed and contented dog.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about it, but if you're really concerned, what not arrange a trip to the vets?

Visitor Comments for Dog Sniffing Non-Stop

My Dog Sniffs and Walks into Things

I have a wonderful 6-year-old English cocker.

Like all the dogs in this chain of messages, he is a great, great sniffer. He can find a single kibble on the lawn in no time.

My question relates to the intensity of his sniffing.

He walks into things all the time because he is so focused.

On a leash, I often guide him around obstacles.

I wonder whether this is just normal scent dog behaviour or is something wrong with the fellow?

Is anyone familiar with such dog sniffing behaviour?

By: Buddy

Intense Sniffing After 14 Days With A Professional Dog Sitter

Unfortunately, we had to leave our beautiful addition to our family with a professional dog sitter in her own home, not a kennel, but a private home.

Charlie is six months old, and all of a sudden, has no interest in playing fetch the tennis ball more than one throw. He will do one fetch and then just starts sniffing and will not return the ball or come to me unless he sees me going inside the house seems to be a common issue after reading this blog.

By: Mel

Cocker Spaniels Are Working Dogs

Cocker Spaniels are super pets, but they are bred as working dogs, so you have to understand that when they circle the garden sniffing, the dog is doing what it was born to do, i.e., 'working'.

Our 10-year-old bitch has worked all her life during the shooting season either beating or picking up with the guns, but in the off-season, she will 'work' our garden for hours on end with no detriment to her - it is her greatest pleasure to do this.

She is exceptionally fit as this excellent exercise for her, and at her recent check-up with the vet, she was pronounced the most' chilled out' dog with the most non-stressed heartbeat they had ever encountered in their environment, so don't deprive your Cocker of its greatest pleasure - it's only doing what it was bred to do!

By: Anonymous

Manic Sniffer

My Cocker Spaniel sniffs throughout his training. I got him when he was 18 months old. Previous to that, he was a stud dog, but he lost interest. Four months after bringing him home, I took him for his first training session.

He is now 2.2 years, but I cannot get him to walk to heel off the lead as he just sniffs the whole time; he is not even interested in treats that are used to try and get his nose off the ground.

We are now at the stage where the dogs can run off the lead and play, but he is not interested. He just wants to circle the whole area and sniff, and even when I call him, he will take his time and come when he has finished.

He is a lovely, loving dog, and when in the house just wants to sit as close to me as he can and have cuddles, but he won't play with other dogs.

If I play with him in the garden, he will play for a little while but latches onto a smell, and off he goes. Not interested.

By: Anonymous

Excessive Dog Sniffing

Recently, our 2-year-old cocker spaniel has been indulging in excessive dog sniffing in our garden, darting around in a near frenzy.

He even ignored his morning food bowl I put out for him as he searched and sniffed for whatever.

It takes ages for him to calm down when we bring him indoors. His heart is pounding, and he has a tremendous thirst. The only remedy I've found is to keep him on a lead even when I let him out for morning or evening wee.

I'm just hoping this will eventually pass, but it's been a good month now without any sign of change.

Would welcome any 'cure' anyone has.

By: Peter McDougal

Answer from Pauline - Website Owner

It's a fact of doggie life; they love to sniff.

A dog's sense of smell is so much better than ours; they can pick up scents great distances away.

Your dog's sniffing can help to relax and calm your pet and make him feel happy.

My Cocker sniffs in the garden all day long. He even tries to lift small stones to get at the little lizards shading from the sun.

Your vet has given you the all-clear, so your Cocker is healthy, which means it's probably a behavioural problem rather than a health problem.

Your dog may have picked up the scent of a cat (or a new cat to the neighbourhood), rabbits or mice. In fact, any small animal or rodent that's wandered into your garden during the day or night.

Is it possible that there's a bitch in heat locally? If there is, it's entirely plausible that Oscar will be able to smell her.

If none of these apply, perhaps you need to increase his mental stimulation? Let him sniff for longer each day, hide some treats in the garden and let him go and sniff them out.

I wouldn't worry too much about Oscar. It sounds like he's enjoying himself!

Kind regards,
Pauline

Dog Sniffing Frantically

My 2.5-year-old working Cocker has suddenly started sniffing around the garden frantically. He is not interested in his food, going for a walk or anyone that walks into the garden.

This is totally out of character; I am getting worried about this as he is wearing himself out and can't seem to calm down when we finally manage to get him inside.

Does anyone have any advice?

By: Ben

Dog Sniffing Non-Stop

The same as Buddy's dog, my 11 month-old Working Cocker dog has taken to running around the garden non-stop sniffing obsessively, not interested in walkies or treats, heart-pounding - very concerned!

Any ideas, please?

By: Blossom

Tennis Sniffer!

My cocker spaniel will sniff wherever her ball has been. She takes a few minutes to bring the ball back because she sniffs its entire trail.

Unusual, but she seems to enjoy herself!

By: Anonymous

My Cocker's A Hoover With Four Legs!

I should have called my Cocker Dyson because he can sniff out a biscuit ten miles away. He makes me laugh when his nose is down on the ground, and his tail is going fifty to the dozen!

By: Colin C

Female Cocker Spaniel - Crazy Sniffing!

My cocker spaniel has just turned a year old and, for 3 days now, is infatuated sniffing the yard while on a cable run.

Her tail is constantly wagging. She's sniffing around in circles for hours at a time until I drag her back into the house.

I guess this is one of their "things", but I was getting worried there was something wrong.

Now, I think it's a natural thing. Thank you.

By: Rob

Dog Sniffing Habit

Hi, we have a three-year-old male intact, Cocker Spaniel. We have had him for 1.5 years, and he also does a lot of sniffing - it's just what he loves to do.

I have tried getting him interested in fetching a ball, but believe me, if there are more exciting smells around, he just gets distracted. Our neighbour's bitch has been on heat, so his nose has been very busy!

Only his nose, thankfully!

By: Donna and Boris

A Dog Sniffing Is Natural

My cocker spaniel, Duke, sniffs constantly.

I think it's natural for cockers to sniff - that's what they were bred for - picking up the scent of a bird and then following it until they found it. They'd then take it back (in their 'soft' mouths) to their 'masters'.

I wouldn't worry too much about your dog's sniffing - it sounds like he's enjoying himself!

By: Jules

Why Is My Dog Sniffing Constantly?

By: Carly
From: England

Hi, Our three and a half-year-old bitch has started sniffing inside our lounge and hallway since Christmas!

It can be in different areas of each room, but it is constantly. It is beginning to get frustrating for both of us!

We had another dog stay the weekend, and he didn't pay any attention to it, and we know there are no rodents.

Please help!

Thanks.

Carly and Ruby dog

Reply From Pauline (Website Owner)

Hello Carly and Ruby Dog!

Well, I don't like to state the obvious, but dogs love to sniff - there, I said it!

Seriously though, sniffing is a dog's way of exploring and communicating in our human world, but to be honest with you, Carly, I'm not really sure what's going on here.

What confuses me is why it's just started since Christmas?

Sniffing can be a sign of insecurity, nervousness, or anxiety.

Have there been any changes in your household recently - someone new, who she's a little unsure of?

I'm assuming that there hasn't been a traumatic event in your dog's life and that you've lived where you are for a while (and not recently moved in), so there should be no new smells for your pet. He will be familiar with the scent of your home, and therefore comfortable.

Is it possible that another dog has had a minor 'accident' on your carpet which has gone unnoticed or which you've cleaned up recently? Even if you clean it up well, a dog will still smell it unless you use a special cleaner to remove all dog scents.

Are you sure there are no rodents, perhaps under the floorboards? Cocker Spaniels have a keen sense of smell and hearing. It could be that she can hear something and is trying to sniff it out.

Dogs sniff for many reasons, one of which is nervousness, and sniffing has a calming effect. If you've never seen this before, just stop and watch the other dogs the next time you're in a dog park. You may see two dogs close to each other, sniffing the ground (not each other's butts).

In this situation, what is happening is that both dogs are nervous about each other; sniffing the ground is an avoidance tactic (as well as calming).

Sometimes a dog will sniff the ground until another dog has passed - that's another example of nervousness and avoidance tactics.

We do the same ourselves; if we see someone in the street we don't want to meet, we look the other way (pretending not to see them) and hurry past them - come on, I'm sure we've all done it at some time. :)

Take a step back.

The next time your Cocker begins sniffing, ask yourself what's changed.

Is there someone different in the room or house?

What was she previously doing? Can you hear any noises? What exactly is she doing? Is it frantic sniffing, as though she could smell or hear something, or is it a more gentle 'avoidance' sniffing?

I'm afraid this situation has me stumped, but if you're really worried, why not take her to your vet and have her checked over? At least the vet will be able to reassure you there's nothing physically wrong with your dog.

Please let me know if you get to the bottom of this - I'm now inquisitive!

Kind regards,
Pauline

PS: Perhaps some of our visitors might know what's going on - come on guys, what's your opinion?  Can you help Carly and Ruby?

Update from Carly and Ruby Dog

Hi Pauline,

We checked all the obvious things like rodents, new items, etc.

Strangely, this weekend she started to do the same..... it began at my mum's house, sniffing her rug!

Then we took her home, and she started back at our house doing the same thing!

I wondered if it could be to do with fireworks and things going off?

We didn't hear any last night, but there was a few Saturday night.

Either that or she could possibly be coming into season!

She doesn't have a consistent pattern, but her last one was over 6 months ago?

Final Update from Carly and Ruby Dog

Hi,

Soon after posting this message, Ruby stopped sniffing, and we never got to the bottom of the problem!

Visitor Comments for Dog Sniffing Constantly

My 5-year-old male suddenly began sniffing constantly. He always seems to have his nose to the ground; he never did this before.

By: Sandra

Hi, my 1-year-old spaniel runs around the house sniffing constantly.

We definitely don't have rodents or cats, and the floor gets cleaned fairly often (hardwood flooring).

It looks as though he goes to follow a scent; however, his movements are so erratic I really don't know what he's doing.

When he was younger, he used to retrieve on command perfectly.

Now, if you throw a toy inside, he runs to it but then puts his nose to the floor and runs around like a mad dog. He no longer retrieves on command; we simply have to wait until he's done sniffing!

This is very irritating, and he's the same outside.

I've read that their dog senses take over, and hearing tends to be left behind, but he will stop and look, await a command, then bark and carry on sniffing!

By: Steph and Chase


Perhaps she is coming into season?

Why not log these events (sniffing, season, fireworks, etc.) on a calendar and see if you can come up with a pattern?

It might just help - good luck!

By: Dan


Is it possible he's sniffing the other dog that visited recently?

Why not try cleaning the floors with a specially formulated dog scent remover. If it doesn't work, at least you've eliminated one more potential reason for your dog's sniffing.

By: Claire