Scratching & sniffing – let your dog walk you

Have you ever let your dog walk you? Recently there have been lots of articles about dog enrichment suggesting that letting your dog lead the way is a wonderful way to let your dog relax and be a dog. 

Most of this Spring has been cold, rainy, and/or snowy and generally miserable weather-wise. But we had a sunny, if brisk, day last week and Hope decided to let her 7-year-old French Bulldog Torque lead the way on a walk.

This was a first. It’s not that they never go for walks. It’s just that they’re usually walks for either training or exercise. Just walking for the sake of it is not part of our makeup. We know there are lots of people who enjoy it, we’re just not among them. That’s why there are 32 flavors of ice cream.

Confusing lack of direction

Torque walks nicely on leash, so he was accommodating, if a little confused. He’s used to Hope always deciding direction and pace of the outing. Torque isn’t used to being in charge. 

Once he caught on, he had a wonderful time. There’s a “greenway” at the end of our street, just for people, bicyclists, and dog walking. It’s not all that wide, but it goes for a few miles and the path is paved. It’s landscaped with native plants and trees. Needless to say, it’s fairly heavily used. Especially with locals walking their dogs. The pee-mail was fascinating for Torque.

Sniff as you please

Small dog walking and sniffing

He may have thought he’d gone to heaven. At the first couple of trees, he glanced sideways at Hope to see if she was planning to call him off. When no “come on!” urging came, he dipped his head for a few more whiffs before moving on.

At some point Torque realized that he could do what he wanted. He sniffed, marked, and kicked back after each deposit droplet. And then he stopped marking and just started kicking. Apparently just for the sheer joy of doing it.

Ground scratching

Because we always want to know why, we checked to see what’s going on when our dogs kick back like Torque was doing. The name of the behavior is “ground scratching” and apparently it’s a normal, if uncommon behavior. Only 10 percent of domestic dogs do it, although it’s very common among wolves, coyotes, and other wild canids.

Of course nobody knows exactly why dogs ground scratch. Because it’s most often seen immediately after elimination, researchers speculate that it’s either to spread their scent far and wide, or to mask the scent so unfriendlies can’t find them. Which are directly contradictory reasons, so no conclusions drawn. We do know that dogs have sweat glands in their paws, and may emit scent and pheromones when they scratch. Again, nobody really knows.

Careful of the landscape

We learned a lot from our dog-directed walk. It was fun seeing Torque have such a good time. And we learned he’s only allowed to be in the driver’s seat on native-growing, public property. The neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate a thorough ground-scratching session, no matter how much Torque enjoyed it.


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