Why do dog trainers and behaviourists keep going on about sniffafaris? Let's get technical!
A little fact many animal lovers and guardians are unaware of is the Animal Welfare Act 2006 from the UK Government (although many other countries share this same welfare). In this article we are specifically looking at Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Gov.UK. (2007).
This section of the Animal Welfare Act states the five freedoms that pet owners have a responsibility and duty of care to meet the following needs.
It is against the law and an offence to not meet the 5 above needs of any animal.
So when it comes to dogs we also have the Dangous Dogs Act 1991. Which states it is unlawful for a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public or private place. Public space protection orders means in some public areas it is legally required for your dog to be on a lead. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Gov.UK (2014).
So here we have two UK (England) laws which defines that dogs should be on a lead, especially within a public order area and that dogs should be allowed to express natural behaviour patterns and if these are breached the offences can be prosecuted in court, ranging from fines to prison sentences. But nowhere do these laws state that a dog must walk to heel, walk in an obedient heel criteria or be corrected for pulling or walking ahead.
We need to accept that a dog needs to sniff and sniffing has wonderful physiological and psychological benefits for dogs as well as meeting their biological needs. So much so that we have used dogs for their scenting abilities for many, many years to aid us as humans be it hunting over thousands upon thousands of years or in the modern world as medical detection dogs and military dogs.
Let's explore the dogs brain and how sniffing works so that if we understand the biological mechanics we may further understand our dog doesn't have a choice in sniffing and that they don't do it, to make out lives difficult or to make Karen and Steve feel compelled to make an unkind comment.
If you refer back to the brain blog (scroll down) and look at the diagram of the dog's brain this will help in understanding the following locations.
The dogs forebrain has a very special area called the olfactory bulb, which is literally a bulb made of neural tissue and this area is known as the olfactory cortex. 40 times larger than ours, one eighth of their entire brain and our brain is controlled by a visual cortex whereas a dogs brain is controlled by the olfactory cortex. (We enjoy reading, watching TV, social media and taking in the sights. Our dogs enjoy taking in scents). This is biological for them and us, meaning we cannot control it anymore than they can, it's a part of our genetic make up which makes us a human sapien species and their genetic makeup making them a Canidae species.
Scent travels from the olfactory bulb to the limbic system area of the brain (the lower brain where the caudate nucleus, cerebrum, hippocampus, hypothalamus and amygdala are located) and the cortex, the covering layer of the brain all communicate with one another via neurons, electrical and chemical signals.
The dog's sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans. Horowitz wrote that humans maybe able to detect if their coffee has one teaspoon of sugar in it, however the dog can detect one teaspoon of sugar in one million gallons of water. This would equate to detecting scent within two Olympic sized swimming pools.
When a dog breathes in, the air dissipates along two paths, the air separated into travel to the olfactory and the other path of air to the pharynx. This is so that the dog can process the scent and compare it within the olfactory as to whether this is a prestored scent or a new scent whilst simultaneously breathing at the same time. Dogs have three million olfactory receptors in their nose (breed dependent it can be more). We are unable to do this and when we inhale we process scent and oxygen at the same time. Dogs have a fold within their nose which allows the oxygen and the scent inhalation to separate and then be processed.
We have six million receptors. Their brain is more dedicated than the human brain to detect and process smell which makes their scent processing skills within their brains forty times more powerful than ours.
When we breathe in only a little oxygen and scent is sent to the roof of our nasal cavity whilst in the dog they are able to separate both the oxygen and the scent. Within the nasal cavity are turbinates which processes scent and then sends electrical impulses to the brain to be processed. Turbinates are responsible for the processing of the olfactory and the information and identification of the odours.
When humans inhale through the nose we simply send the oxygen received back out through the nostrils. Dogs however store the oxygen as they exhale. The spent air exits through the slits in their nostrils. When they do this it also allows the retention of the odour and increases the storage of the particular scent. This allows dogs to continue sniffing almost continuously whilst simultaneously breathing and exhaling. Dogs can go through 30 respiratory cycles within 40 seconds.
Dogs also have a secondary olfactory system which humans lack; this is called the Jacobson's organ. This is located in the bottom of the dog's nasal area. They are also able to detect pheromones within the jacobson organ, this allows dogs to understand sexual properties of other animals as well as social skills. The jacobson's organ also has its own nerve cells which means that the secondary olfactory system can process pheromones separately to Scent and oxygen.
The Dog's nose is also wet so that the nasal cavity becomes covered in mucus which allows better processing of the particles to be stored within the olfactory system, processed and stored.
The olfactory bulb is located under the frontal lobes of the brain and behaves as a result of a relay station for the processes of odour. The scent is also processed by the hypothalamus and the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for the processes of memories and the storage of the memories from scent. Tyson, P. (2012).
The process of recalling memories can also stimulate the brain's pleasure centre for a dog to like humans when humans recall memories. The dogs sense of smell and scent detection is where their brain is mainly dedicated unlike humans. Dogs experience emotions through scent. This is why scent is so important to dogs and why the scent processing skills of a dog should be both admired and respected.
It has been found that sniffing and foraging improves dogs' welfare. How? A group of dogs were given the training task of sniffing for a fortnight and another group of dogs were tasked with heelwork for a fortnight. Both groups were presented with the presence of a stimuli (a trigger) and the dogs tasked with sniffing had positive emotions around the stimuli instead of negative emotions even if the stimuli first caused negative emotions at the start of the trial. Horowitz, et al. (2013).
Thanks to Dr. Berns who first conducted fMRI studies to further understand the dogs brain and the regions of the dogs brain we now also know that dogs process scent much faster than they process verbal cues and the areas of the brain which communicate when scent is presented using aqueous solutions. During the processing of scent within the brain dogs form a clear picture which can be seen on MRI as though we would when looking at something. Prichard. A., et al, ; Prichard, A. et al.(2020).
Dogs also rely in their olfactory system in more aspects of their life than going for a walk, they identify us as their guardians as having a specific odour and in previous studies, researchers found that dogs will look to us when struggling with a problem solving task, they will be able to show us or find rewards and toys the guardian can't locate and shelter dogs used quickly showed an attachment to the person who had been working with them in just 10 minutes. Prato Previde, E. & Valsecchi, P. (2014); Hare, B. & Tomasello, M. (2005); Nagasawa, M. et al. (2015).
Dogs rely on strong emotional bonds and connection seeking and this heavily relies upon their olfactory system, going for a walk allows them to connect socially, just like we do on social media, phone calls, visiting friends etc.
Sniffafaris are much more than a force free or holistic methodology, it is literally a biological need for our dogs and the main function of their brain system. Depriving them of these opportunities can negatively impact their emotional connections, social learning opportunities and their biological needs which in turn negatively impacts upon their physiology making them vulnerable and susceptible to disease and unwellness. Develop anxiety and or depression such as heart conditions, skin conditions, respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, kidney disease, stomach ulcers, gastric problems and more. This is not an exhaustive list and by no means is meant to be scary but to be informative to help your dog to live their best life and prevent these risks.
This is why we also recommend sniffafaris for decompression to bring down the cortisol surges and the negative impact within the brain and body and to begin the healing process.
We know due to cortisol and the higher rates of release it can take several days for the cortisol levels to drop. Weitzman, Fukushima, Nogeire et al (1970) .
Your dog's brain is literally a little jungle, with its own living environment with different areas working together and talking to each other (which I depict for simplicity with animals who represent the area of the brain) the dogs brain is always working and never stops, their nose especially is always working with absolutely no effort or engagement, let them sniff, for their well being, biological needs, psychological and physiological needs, for their welfare, so that you aren't breaking the law and because you love them and want to be the best informed guardian you can be. Your dog will literally thank you for it and they will be much healthier and happier too.
Participation, E. (2007) Animal Welfare Act 2006, Legislation.gov.uk. Statute Law Database. Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/45/section/9
Service, G.D. (2014) Controlling your dog in public, Available at: https://www.gov.uk/contro.../public-spaces-protection-orders
Tyson, P. (2012) Dogs' dazzling sense of smell, PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. Available at: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/
Alexandra Horowitz a et al. (2013) Smelling more or less: Investigating the olfactory experience of the domestic dog, Learning and Motivation. Academic Press. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/.../abs/pii/S0023969013000234 (Accessed: February 24, 2023).
Prichard A , Chhibber R, Athanassiades K, Spivak M, Berns GS. 2018a. Fast neural learning in dogs: a multimodal sensory fMRI study. Sci Rep. 8:14614.
Prichard, A. et al. (2020) Decoding Odor Mixtures in the Dog Brain: An Awake fMRI Study, Oxford Academic . Available at: https://academic.oup.com/chemse/article/45/9/833/5923335
Prato Previde, E. & Valsecchi, P. in The Social Dog (eds Juliane Kaminski & S Marshall-Pescini) Ch. 6, 165–190 (Elsevier Publishers, 2014).
Hare, B. & Tomasello, M. Human-like social skills in dogs?. Trends Cognit. Sci. 9, 439–444 (2005).
Nagasawa, M. et al. Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds. Science 348, 333–336. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1261022 (2015).
Weitzman, Fukushima, Nogeire et al ‘Twenty-four hour pattern of the episodic secretion of cortisol in normal subjects’. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, chapter:33, pages:14–22., 1970
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