Try this trainer’s top tip for a chilled out dog - and it’s not more exercise

Dog sniffing flowers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've been looking for ways to tire your dog out in the hopes that it will make them calmer, you may have fallen into the trap that many of us pet parents do and opted to exercise your fur friend more.

And while your canine companion is unlikely to turn down the opportunity to spend more time outdoors, according to Juliana DeWillems, owner and head trainer at JW Dog Training & Behavior, more exercise might not be the answer. 

In a video shared to Instagram, which you can view below, DeWillems says that the secret to a chilled out dog lies in letting our pups do something that we humans often find frustrating when we're out walking with them - sniffing. 

"Sniffing is something humans can find really annoying on walks because we don’t realize how IMPORTANT it is for our dog’s wellbeing!," explains DeWillems. 

"Sniffing is how our dogs take in the world. It’s how they process information. A dog sniffing on walks is like us checking emails from friends, reading the newspaper, or scrolling through Instagram. They enjoy it, and they need to do it."

DeWillems says that sniffing is a natural behavior that's incredibly calming for dogs. In fact it's so effective that it's been proven to lower a dog's pulse and can also tire a dog out mentally in a way that physical exercise alone can't do. 

"Sniffing is a great way to zap brain power. Walks with lots of sniffing can often be better for tiring your dog out than trying to cover lots of ground."

What we as pet parents also don't realize is that sniffing has another benefit - it can help to naturally diffuse conflicts. "It can be called a “displacement behavior” that your dog chooses to do to signal they are uncomfortable, want to avoid something, or don’t want to agitate whatever they are perceiving as a trigger in that moment," DeWillems states. 

"Restricting your dog from sniffing can inhibit some of their natural communication, and can cause them to react instead or more quickly."

If all of that weren't enough, sniffing can help to lower your dog's stress and anxiety levels, giving their physical and mental wellbeing a much needed boost. "Sniffing is a great way to decompress and release stress," explains DeWillems. 

"You might have heard of “decompression walks” where your dog is allowed to go wherever they please in an open, quiet space and take in the sniffs as much as they want. These walks are critical for dogs, especially reactive, fearful, anxious, or aggressive ones." 

So, next time you're out on your daily walk with your dog, why not focus on less walking but more sniffing - it may well result in a calmer canine. If you try the above technique and find your pup is still experiencing stress and anxiety or displaying unwelcome behaviors, we recommend reaching out to a professional trainer for some 1:1 support. 


Enjoyed this piece and keen to learn more about the benefits of sniffing? Then be sure to check out our first-person account of how a 45-minute 'sniffari' tired out this Border Collie more than a two hour hike. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.