The NOSE Knows How to Relax
As a working dog, Azul has some very busy days and needs time to relax. This picture was taken on a particularly busy day. Often we spend time sniffing this green space while we wait for my son, but on this day Azul sniffed and added to the p-mail on a few trees and promptly chose a shady spot to relax. While this was a pretty busy day, nothing we did was exercise or anything that would tire Azul out physically. Mental activity and extra focus on his Service Dog duties is where most of his energy was spent.
Now you may be thinking that Azul is not sniffing in this picture so what does it have to do with sniffing?
While Azul's body is resting, his nose is still going like crazy most likely sniffing where the bunnies gathered earlier that day. He's also watching several birds fly from tree to tree nearby and occasionally picks his head up to sniff the air when a person exits a nearby door. On a typical sniff-a-bout day Azul would be rushing to check out the birds, greet the people and so forth. Often on busy days we stay in the car while we wait. But this day, Azul asked to go out in the grass where he could relax and still sniff the environment and the things moving around him. You see Azul has learned very well how sniffing helps him to relax while taking in environmental changes.
Azul has taken at least one meandering type sniff-a-bout every day of his life since he came into our family as a young puppy. A sniff-a-bout is walk where we basically wander together going wherever Azul's nose takes us at the speed he takes. Some days I have to ask him to slow down so I can keep up but I rarely have to speed him up. Depending on the activity and stressors of the day, we might travel up to 1/2 a mile during the sniff-a-bout or as little as 30-40 feet.
If I had to give the single most important activity I do with my dogs, that would be the sniff-a-bout! This activity allows me to determine what my dogs need most in that moment. Maybe they simply need to go potty. Perhaps some wildlife walked through our property in the wee hours of the morning and the boys have been waiting all day to go get a closer sniff. Sometimes hunting squirrels or moles is the most important activity of the day. Sometimes these activities are driven by something exciting in the environment. But more often these activities are driven by the actual needs of the dog in that moment.
Cam, my older dog with anxiety tends to need to Go, Go, Go, far and fast when he's had a stressful day. Since he is off leash trained and sticks to our property Cam tends more to Zoom circles around Azul and I because staying in one place too long does not help him get rid of the extra anxiety he's been storing up.
Azul on the hand is my explorer who likes to sniff every single blade of grass, the full circle of every tree trunk, along the base of every barn on our property, and so forth. He only picks up speed when he's on the hunt of something really good or he thinks Cam has something wonderful to sniff. However if I take Azul on an exercise based walk on a local trail or play a game that involves speed, he is ready to GO! The days where we have less activity Azul likes to draw out the sniff-abouts as long as he possibly can. The days where something exciting or stressful has happened, he will ask to go on another sniff-a-bout by hanging out by the back door. (We leave by the front door when we are going to work or run errands, but use the backdoor for sniff-a-bouts.)
Yesterday was another really busy day starting at 6am and not ending until close to 11pm. We started with a sniff at the empty dog park at 6am which is one of Azul's favorite activities. This was followed by a 1 mile trail hike. Once back home Azul went to sleep for about an hour until I left home without him. During these times Azul tends to beg Dad for everything which included 2nd breakfast, Find It Games, another sniff-a-bout and lots of belly rubs. When I returned home I had several Zoom appointments where Azul laid at my feet sleeping in his typical fashion. Then it was a few quick errands and picking up my son. And last but not least we had some parkour fun where Azul met a new fur friend and worked on the mini-obstacle course followed by another 1 mile trail hike. By the time we got home, Azul and dinner and headed to bed. Unfortunately I had still had more Zoom meetings, but this time Azul did not lay by my feet like normal as he never left his bed.
After that busy day, we spent today resting! Azul slept all night and most of the morning when I finally begged him to go outside to sniff about noon. Azul watched some squirrels play while Cam chased a few balls, then we started our sniff-about. Today's sniff-a-bout took us about 100 feet away from our back door to a tree that is falling over from a windstorm. This tree is nothing new, Azul has seen it a million times. But today I swear, Azul sniffed each and every leaf and probably multiple times. He never acted as if he smelled something amazing that locked him in and he couldn't leave. Azul simply wandered back and forth from trunk to tree top.
You can see in this video what Azul's sniff-about looks like. While the video is only a little more then a minute, Azul did this exact same thing for roughly 15 minutes. So what does that tell me about Azul's mood for the day? Well, he was still tired since we didn't venture too far from the backdoor. He wanted to take advantage of the free time so he kept moving even if it was back and forth which is rare for him. His nose never stopped moving for more then 1-2 seconds which tells me the smells were not amazing, but good enough for him to be content.
You may here traffic noise in the video, which is why Azul is wearing his harness and longline. (Our safety gear for all sniff-a-bouts!) While my goal is to remain as quiet as possible on sniff-a-bouts, I still give the occasional direction such as go around or fix it if the longline gets tangled. If he moves toward a boundary line, I'll cue him to stop and move back towards me. When Azul is hunting something, he often does not hear these directional cues, but when he is sniffing to process the environment or relax in the environment he follows the guidance really well.
By silent observations on sniff-a-bouts I can tell what is going on with my dogs both physically and emotionally. I then can better provide the things they need to balance out their day. My dogs work hard taking care of me. The least I can do is spend 15-30 minutes a day helping them to take care of their needs. Here is another part of our 15 min sniff-a-bout around and under this tree.
Directions on how to learn to do a relaxed sniff-about will be coming soon in another blog. I wanted to help you understand why I urge all of my clients to go on sniff-a-bouts as often as possible. It's such a little act of kindness that we share the fluffy pups we share our lives with.
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