Stanley Coren describes the dog’s sense of smell like this:
Let’s say you have one gram of a component of human sweat, called butyric acid. Humans can actually smell this proficiently. If you were to release that one gram of butyric acid in the space of a 10-story building, we could detect a faint odor upon entrance. Go ahead and slap yourself on the back there, that’s pretty well done for humanity.
But, consider this:
You could put the entire 135-square-mile city of Philadelphia under a 300-foot-high enclosure, release that one gram of butyric acid, and the average dog would be able to detect the oder.
James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institution at Florida State University, puts it this way:
“If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”
And therefore, ladies and gents, the reason why walking a dog can take so long.
Your dog on a walk is like your brain touring half the country of Cyprus (that distance being about 3,000 square miles or 4820km). Every tree is a hidden treasure of history, every blade of grass containing the saunters and waddles and sprints of the previous hundred dogs.
That is for the average dog, too.
So take a border collie: highly energetic, extremely intelligent, magically proficient in exocrine glands. Take that for a walk, and I dare you to assume you’ll be walking at a constant pace.
My border collie, MaKenzie, the epsom-salt soak of my life, is not so great at walking in a straight line at a constant speed. Taking her for a walk sometimes is much slower than touring half of Cyprus. She’s even put it in on her CV:
Hi, name’s Kenz. I like ball–ball is life! ball is life!–and I like naps on couch and I like crackers and I like sitting underneath Owner Josie while she is eating because she drops a whole lot of food and I like that.
I hate the mail carrier I think he smells like pickles and I distrust pickles. I want to protect Owners from pickle-smelling mail carriers.
I like taking long walks but I do not like that Owners keep saying “come on Kenz come on Kenz let’s go Kenz” because there is too much to do and explore.
Kenzie and I sometimes combine our mutual love for being outside and smelling other people and translate that into nice walks after I get home from student teaching. In the past, I’ve found myself yanking her along, and telling her to “come on, Kenz!” and “stay close, Kenz!” and “stop, Kenz!”
But I felt her giving me the stink eye one too many deserved times. So I’ve developed a new system, one that benefits both Kenz and I on these walks of ours.
I simply let her do exactly her thing.
I stop when she stops. I don’t pull the leash at all, except while we are waiting to cross the street or if we are coming upon other dogs. I backtrack when she backtracks. I lumber forward when she lumbers forward. I don’t command her on these walks of ours anymore, I let her do the leading.
Of course, she adores this, she’s a bloody border collie, every fiber of her being wants to lead.
It benefits me, too. A lot more than I initially realized it might.
First of all, it challenges me to a test of patience. It teaches me to give up control of time, of pace, of direction. It helps me to observe what’s around me. When Kenzie stops to smell the trees, I look around me and note more magical things than I would if we were barreling down the street, gettin’ our steps in.
I feel more satisfaction after our walks, because they were more about Kenzie than they were about me. Giving her a chance to explore while spending time together while being outside while getting to occasionally sniff at people. It’s a win-win-win-win.
It’s a policy of dog-walking that I recommend for anyone looking to improve patience and the ability to relinquish control.
Let your dog do the dog-walking, fools.
Peace and blessings,