My dog Rosie took a training class this spring, and it was recommended that we take her on “smell walks.” Alexandra Horowitz makes the same recommendation in her book Inside a Dog. The idea is that dogs understand their world through their nose, and really want to take their time smelling it – just like humans want to stop and look when they see something really interesting. However, we humans often yank dogs by those spots that they’re trying to understand, in the name of obedience and exercise.
Rosie’s trainer said that she used to have a dog-walking business and the dogs would get so tired that the owners thought she must go running with them. Really, she simply let them go at their own pace, allowing them to smell whenever they wanted to. Going slower resulted in the dogs truly being tired and losing their hyperactivity. The trainer’s story reminded me of my own life experience – sometimes I rush through my day so quickly, but when it’s time to go to sleep, I don’t actually feel tired. However, on the days where I really focus on a few activities and do them really well, I end with a deep sense of well-being and sleep better.
On Rosie’s first smell walk, I let her lead me across the park that our house faces. It’s about the size of a city block, and it took ten minutes to walk across it. At first, I enjoyed it – looking up at the trees and listening to the birds. However, as time went on, I wanted to say to her, “really? How can that clump of grass be that important? Okay – we’ve seen it all now, right?” The walk taught me that I’ve grown so accustomed to always being on the move that it felt uncomfortable not to be.
I do still walk Rosie to get physical exercise – we don’t take ten minutes to cross the park every day (Horowitz recommends that you still take your dog for regular walks). However, on Rosie’s walks, I now stop with her when she really needs a good whiff of a tree trunk, and don’t move on until she’s satisfied that she’s experienced it. While Rosie stays in one spot, twitching her nose to take in every scent, I stay in my spot, inhaling and exhaling for a few counts. As usual, I feel like Rosie’s teaching me.