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Pet Column: Sniffing and marking, a dog’s social media

Photo by Elle Williams.

By Elle Williams, CCPDT-KA  
Pet Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider  

There are a lot of opinions about dogs peeing and sniffing while on walks. You have the owners who let their dogs walk right up into people’s yards to pee, owners who tug their dogs away the second their dog stops to sniff, and owners who have designated spots where they let their dog sniff and pee as much as they want.

If you’re not a dog owner, you may wonder why the owner doesn’t have their dog relieve itself before a walk. Well, peeing on walks has almost nothing to do with relieving themselves of a full bladder. What’s going on is no different than you or I posting and reading comments on social media. It’s all about communication.

“There have been times when I’m walking my dog and looking at my Instagram feed on my phone, then watching him sniff patches of pee from other dogs, and I think this is the same activity,” Ed Yong, author of An Immense World, stated during an interview on NPR’s show Forum.

No matter if you like it or not, sniffing and peeing is your dog’s way of communicating with the neighbors. When a dog marks, it’s leaving behind all kinds of personal information. 

Dogs can learn the health, sexual availability, diet, gender, age, and size of another dog. In fact, some research has pointed to the possibility that markings can tell the emotional state of the dog who left the mark. That’s basically a social media profile packed into a couple of drops of pee. 

This is why sniffing while on walks is such a benefit to our dog’s overall health. It’s a form of socializing, helpful for dogs that don’t get many opportunities to meet other dogs face-to-face. It’s a much safer way for dogs to meet one another.

“It’s a form of socializing, helpful for dogs who don’t get many opportunities to meet dogs face-to-face.” 

Sniffing also helps a dog feel secure in their neighborhood. “Watch a dog on a walk, and you see that cities are crisscrossed with skeins of scent that carry the biographies and histories of their residents,” Yong said. To them, they know who’s been around and what to expect. It’s no different than us looking at our neighbor’s yard decor, cars, and flags to gather information on who these people are. 

Then there’s the workout that comes with the sniffing. “To a dog, a simple walk is an odyssey of olfactory exploration,” Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog, said. Yes, it’s a mental workout for a dog. Forty percent of its brain is devoted to analyzing and storing memories related to smell. Remember, a dog’s world is much more than what they see. In face, its nose is how they primarily navigate the world around them.

This brings me to my main point. Walks aren’t about the destination, they are about the information collected along the way. Dogs don’t pee out of disrespect, they are simply having conversations among their own kind. 

So whether you allow designated spots for them to leave and read comments or just go with the flow and let them sniff and mark away, please allow your dog the curiosity of communication. Let them sniff, it’s their walk, not yours.

Elle Williams is a local in-home dog trainer and the owner of Give a Sit Dog Training. She is certified in dog psychology, nutrition, and grooming, and specializes in basic and advanced obedience, puppy prep, and behavior adjustment training.

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