Sniffing is how your pooch sees the world.
But there are times when it becomes their main activity.
Your dog has their nose to the ground on every walk.
Treats and calls don’t work.
They even move further away just to sniff!
And you wonder,
“Why does my dog do this all the time?”
Keep reading and discover:
- 7 tips to stop your dog from doing it.
- 3 diseases dogs can detect by sniffing.
- The method for introducing scent work to your dog.
- 7 reasons why your dog constantly sniffs the ground.
- And much more…
Table of contents
- Why is my dog constantly sniffing the ground?
- 7 reasons why your dog constantly sniffs the ground
- How do I get my dog to stop sniffing the ground? 7 tips
Why is my dog constantly sniffing the ground?
Your dog is constantly sniffing the ground because they use their nose as the primary sense. It could also mean that your dog is a scenting breed or they want to go potty. But constant sniffing also happens due to stress, Canine OCD, or doggy dementia.
7 reasons why your dog constantly sniffs the ground
#1: It’s in the genes
Dog noses are 1,000 times more powerful than ours.
They can detect differences in the scents around them.
Although this is true for all dogs, some excel at it.
Breeds with pointed noses are better at scent work than flat-nosed dogs (brachycephalic breeds).
According to the AKC, your dog’s brain dedicates ⅛ of itself to smelling. Their olfactory cortex (the part that processes scents) is 40 times bigger than a human’s.
Which makes dogs so great at detecting:
- Illegal drugs.
- Missing persons.
- Medical problems.
- Runaway criminals.
In fact, scent work dogs are the subject of many studies.
Take these, for example…
Dogs trained to detect COVID-19
This study is the first of its kind. And future research on it would mean that dogs can be primary detectors for the virus.
Or as a supplement to the RT-PCR in airports, malls, or other public places.
For 1 week, the researchers had the dogs trained to detect positive samples of the virus. And reject negative ones.
It was a blind experiment. Both researchers and dog handlers didn’t know which sample was positive or negative.
And the dogs showed such impressive results.
They had a 94% detection rate.
With 157 correct detections of positive and 792 correct rejections of negative samples.
And you know what’s so surprising?
The dogs got it wrong only 30 times when they rejected 30 positive samples.
And 32 negatives they thought to be positive.
Which is amazing for only 1 week of training!
Malaria detection dogs
In another study, researchers had dogs trained on how to identify malaria-positive people.
They asked children from Gambia, Africa with and without malaria to wear socks overnight.
In the morning, the researchers collected the socks.
And the team sent the samples to experts in Medical Detection Dogs.
They had the samples frozen while the dogs trained.
And in the actual test, the dogs correctly detected positive samples 70% of the time.
And detected malaria-free samples, 90% of the time.
By that time, the samples already stayed in the freezer for months.
The researchers state that the detection rate could be 78%. If the dogs are also trained to identify the different stages of the parasite.
As younger malaria parasites emit different odors than mature ones.
Breast cancer detection with dogs
In this preliminary study, the researchers proved that dogs can detect breast cancer in urine samples.
The researchers trained a 9-year old Labrador Retriever to identify positive samples.
There were 3 types of participants:
- 18 healthy volunteers.
- 40 breast cancer patients.
- 142 with non-breast malignant diseases.
The dog made correct identifications 40 times out of the 40 runs of the double-blind test.
The dog had 100% sensitivity (ability to recognize a person with disease).
And 100% specificity (ability to identify a person who doesn’t have the disease).
You might also be interested in: 13 Reasons Why Your Dog Keeps Sniffing Your Legs (& Knee)
#2: It’s their way of “seeing” the world/ nose=primary sense of smell
Dog noses contain 220 million olfactory receptors, says Insider.
This means that one short sniffing session already tells your dog a lot of information.
If you’ve ever stopped your dog from sniffing other dogs’ butts, don’t worry about that anymore.
That action is how they learn about other dogs.
According to VetWest, they can determine sex, mood, and heat by sniffing.
It’s completely normal for dogs to sniff.
The activity calms them down and stimulates the mind.
But it can become dangerous.
Watch out for tip #6 and learn why.
#3: Curious about interesting scents
Picture what it must be like for your pooch.
Every walk is a feast for the senses of your doggo.
So they can’t help but sniff the ground to take in all the smells.
Something like this must be going around your dog’s head:
“Must. Smell. All. The. Smells.”
My friend’s dog, Hela, does this especially after a night of heavy rain.
It’s like everything smells new to her. And she has her nose on the ground all the time.
It’s natural for dogs to go gaga for new and interesting scents.
But if you want to correct this behavior, keep on reading for cool tips that work.
#4: “Wanna go potty”
Does your dog have his nose to the ground for the first leg of your walk?
Is your walk in the morning? Or after some hours inside the house?
Sniffing the ground indicates your dog wants to go potty.
Some dogs take so long to choose a spot. You wonder if they’re ever going to do their business.
Here are 2 possible reasons why dogs do this.
Dogs are sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field
A study published by Frontiers in Zoology found that dogs align their body to the magnetic field.
The researchers recorded body alignment in 70 dogs of 32 breeds for 2 years.
They recorded the dogs 1,893 times while pooping. And had 5,582 observations when peeing.
The dogs would only go potty with their body aligned in the North-South axis. And only in times of a calm magnetic field.
The study is the first to prove that dogs are one of the mammals that can feel the earth’s magnetic field. And they can also detect when it’s not stable.
If your dog keeps on sniffing and squatting but they don’t poop. They might have constipation.
This happens when your dog has a hard time because their poop is hard or there’s a blockage.
The VCA states that the most common cause is eating irritating or indigestible items. But it’s not a permanent condition.
You’ll know your dog has it if they do the following:
- Excessive circling.
- Lessened appetite.
- Frequent squatting.
- Crying when trying to poop.
Warning: This condition can worsen into obstipation (severe form). See your vet if your dog hasn’t pooped in 48 to 72 hours.
Your vet will examine your pooch’s rectal structure and medical history.
And recommend these treatments:
- Manual removal.
Further reading: 11 Reasons Why Your Dog Sniffs Your Face (Every Morning)
According to the VCA, sniffing the ground is something dogs do when they feel stressed.
It’s a displacement or avoidance behavior.
Your pooch is uncomfortable so they do other stuff to escape from the situation.
This includes behaviors such as:
- Play bowing.
- Lowered body posture.
But the Merck Vet Manual says, displacement behaviors also signal fear in your dogs.
They can develop fears to:
- Other dogs.
- Loud sounds.
- Unfamiliar people.
Dogs will do displacement behaviors to self-soothe.
But it may become dangerous when they become addicted to the feeling. And your dog can develop compulsive disorders.
#6: Canine OCD
Sniffing is a very enjoyable activity for your dog.
It triggers serotonin release in their body. PetMD states that it’s the hormone responsible for:
- Pain awareness.
- Body temperature.
- Behavior regulation.
- The function of heart and lungs.
But it can develop into canine compulsive disorder (CCD) if your dog is under constant stress.
Your dog likes the way sniffing makes them feel. So they do it when they feel anxious.
CCD is the result when normal dog behaviors become repetitive and compulsive.
“How do you treat CCD?”
According to the AKC, vets use behavior modification training and medications.
Altered serotonin levels in dogs with CCD are common. And medicines that regulate serotonin will help lessen repetitive behaviors.
Certified animal behaviorists can also help. They teach dog parents how to let their dogs learn new behaviors.
Sniffing can be a sign of doggy dementia or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).
It’s a progressive disease that affects the brain.
The VCA states that it can affect dogs 11 to 16 years of age.
And they will show the following signs (DISHAAL):
Dogs will wander around or get lost even in their own homes. They might forget where the door is. And bang their heads on the walls.
CDS has such an effect on the brain that it will change how your dog interacts with you and other people.
They may become cuddly all of a sudden. Or they don’t like to interact with you or other people.
Sleep-wake cycle changes
The dog’s sleeping pattern becomes non-existent. They wake up at unpredictable hours. And because of their confusion, they’ll howl or cry.
Or dogs will sleep more during the day. And tinker around the house at night.
Well-trained dogs regress so much that all learning flies out the window. They’ll forget that going potty isn’t allowed inside the house.
CDS changes your dog’s energy level. Chill dogs might become more active. While active dogs suddenly don’t want to run around. And prefer to lay around all day.
This is where the sniffing part comes in. Dogs with CDS become anxious because they’re confused.
Sniffing becomes a self-soothing behavior that they do in an attempt to calm down.
Dogs can also become more vocal and reactive to new places or loud noises.
Learning and memory
Dogs with CDS suffer a decline in learning and memory.
They forget tricks and even forget people.
One dog parent on the Internet had a dog with CDS. At first, she managed the disease with medications and training.
But there came a time when her dog, Bubbles, would scream if she tried to touch him.
He would run away from her and bark at her when she came into a room.
Soon, Bubbles didn’t recognize any of his human family.
The vet advised his dog parent to have Bubbles put down. The signs were only going to get worse.
Note: If you have a senior dog, look out for these signs. And record any that you see in your pooch to show your vet.
There’s no cure for CDS but you can manage the signs through:
- Mental stimulation.
- Behavioral training.
- Antioxidant-rich diet.
Even senior dogs need mental and physical stimulation. But don’t overdo their exercise. A simple sniffari set up in your lawn will do.
Better yet, start giving your dog regular exercise while they’re still young.
A study finds that the odds of CCD is 6.47 times higher in sedentary dogs than those who have regular activity.
You can also start incorporating food rich in antioxidants in their diet:
- Cooked squash.
- Steamed broccoli and kale.
Note: Add these foods gradually to your dog’s diet. This will help you know if your dog can tolerate them.
How do I get my dog to stop sniffing the ground? 7 tips
Before you apply these tips, please remember that it’s completely normal for dogs to sniff.
Apply these only when sniffing puts your dog in danger because they don’t pay attention to you.
#1: Redirect behavior
If you feel that your dog has spent more time sniffing the ground, you can:
Call your dog’s name. If they look at you, offer a treat. This lets them know that you have something more interesting than what’s on the ground.
But be careful with treats, dogs might lose interest if they aren’t very food motivated.
Instead, you can offer a toy. Or start a bit of playtime.
Bring a tug rope with you on walks and use that to redirect your dog’s attention.
You can also use a combination of treats and toys.
Step 1: Call your dog and let them come to your side.
Step 2: Give them a toy they like, such as a tug rope. And play for a few minutes with your dog.
Step 3: Say “All done” and stop the game.
Step 4: Let your dog sit and offer a treat.
Step 5: Continue with your walk.
#2: More exercise
Tired dogs tend to have lesser curiosity over their surroundings. They’re too busy putting one paw in front of the other.
Take your dog on longer walks or play dog sports with them.
This will provide needed activity to tire them out. And even ease symptoms of:
#3: Engage Fido’s mind
Train your dog in scent work. They already do it, so why not make it into a game for them?
Here are a few games suggested by the AKC that will introduce scent work to your pooch:
This game needs the following:
- Plastic/ paper cups.
Depending on the size of your dog, you can use plastic flower pots for bigger dogs. Paper or plastic cups are enough for small dogs.
Step 1: Cover a treat with a pot or cup. Show your dog that you’re putting something inside.
Step 2: If your dog paws at or nuzzles the cup or pot, say your marker. And lift the cup to give the treat to your dog.
Step 3: When your dog has a faster response time, you can add another cup to the game. But remember to put treats in only one cup.
Step 4: Take it one step at a time. Make the game more difficult by adding more cups. And move them around in front of your dog.
This ensures that your dog is using their nose to find the treats and not their memory.
Muffin tin puzzle
For this game, you need:
- Muffin tins.
- Tennis balls.
Step 1: Put treats in the muffin tins.
Step 2: Cover them with tennis balls.
Step 3: Give the puzzle to your dog and let them investigate the puzzle. Eventually, they will learn to knock off the tennis balls to get the treat.
Step 4: Make the game more difficult by hiding the treats in different locations in the room. Of course, always set your dog up for success by teaching them how the game works.
You can do this with your dog as an upgraded version of the shell game.
You will need some empty boxes and treats.
Step 1: Keep your dog in another room. Scatter some boxes with treats, the others with none.
Step 2: Let your dog enter the room. You can use a command like “Find it” that your dog already knows. And let them start searching the boxes.
Step 3: If your dog finds a treat. Praise and reward them with the treat.
Step 4: Once your dog has finished finding all the treats, lead them out of the room with a treat in your hand.
Step 5: Do this after you get out of the room. Let your dog perform a “Sit” and reward with a treat. It lets your dog know that the game is over. And it’s time to do other stuff.
Note: Take note if your dog loves playing these games. Then you can contact a trainer who specializes in scent work. And start your dog on their program.
#4: Do a sniffing game
It can be frustrating when you can’t get your dog’s attention.
They just seem to prefer having their nose to the ground.
Help your dog adjust their focus by playing this game from Agile Dog Training.
It will help your dog make an active choice to stop sniffing. And pay attention to you instead.
For this, you will need low and high-value treats. And a sealed container with holes that your dog cannot open.
Start in a quiet area with minimal distractions. Such as inside the house.
Step 1: Have your dog on a “Sit” in front of you. Throw a low-value meal a short distance away from you. Encourage your dog to “Go get it”.
Step 2: When your dog goes away to eat the treat, wait. It might take some time but your dog will come back to you. When they do, praise and give a high-value treat.
Step 3: Do a few repetitions of this until your dog comes back to you right after eating the treat.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 but throw 2 to 3 low-value treats. This makes it more difficult for your dog.
Step 5: Once your pup has mastered step 4, put some low-value treats in a sealed container with holes. Put it out in advance and let your dog come into the room.
Step 6: Praise and reward with high-value treats when they come back to you. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until your dog comes back immediately after a short sniff.
Step 7: Change the environment when you feel that your dog’s ready. You can move to your backyard or front lawn. And repeat the game to your dog. It will be easier because they already know how the game works.
#5: Stop only at the scent-rich places
Sniffing is how dogs get information about the world.
So let them sniff. But also, let them know that there are appropriate places for sniffing.
- Fire hydrants.
Praise and give treats when your dog stops at these areas.
With enough repetition, your dog will learn that treats come when they sniff only in those places.
#6: “Heel” command
This command lets your dog walk behind you for a short period of time.
Use this to get your dog’s attention when they’re sniffing something that’s dangerous for them.
It also gives you the ability to call your dog to your side, especially in crowded places. Or when unfriendly dogs are around.
Watch this video for a step-by-step approach to successfully teaching your dog to “Heel”.
#7: Add more sniffing time
“What? Letting my dog sniff more?”
It seems counterintuitive.
But there’s a reason behind it.
The constant sniffing might mean that your dog doesn’t have enough of the stimulation.
Remember that dogs explore their surroundings with their nose.
So give your pooch more chances to use it.
You can have a designated sniffing area to go to during walks.
Sniffaris and snuffle mats also work great.
Or play scent work games with your dog.