January 27, 2022

Are Your Pets Happy?

When I take my little shih tzu, Pepper, for a walk, we move quite slowly because he’s 12 years old. At the patch of grass by the end of the drive, I throw a few treats for him to find with his nose. Then we move on down the street, pausing often for him to sniff. Many dogs walk along the street every day so there are always lots of smells for him to take in. There’s a line of trees whose branches reach down close to the ground, just at his nose height, where he seems to sniff every needle on the tree. Despite the slow pace, he loves these short walks.

Zazie Todd and her dog

Did you know that one way to make your pets happier is to give them more enrichment? This means making changes to their environment so that it is more interesting for them and lets them engage in species-specific behaviours, like play. One option is to think of engaging your pet’s different senses — and the sense of smell is a great place to start.

We know that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, far better than ours, so one easy way to provide enrichment is to give them opportunities to use their nose. This can be as simple as taking them on a sniffari — also known as a smell walk — in which, instead of being hurried along on leash, they get to follow their nose and sniff to their heart’s content. Pepper’s walks are always sniffaris.

Another type of enrichment involving smell is canine nose work. In nose work class, your dog is basically like a detection dog, learning to follow his nose to find the location of a hidden scent. Scientists have even found that taking part in nose work increases dogs’ optimism!

But scent enrichment isn’t just for dogs. Cats have amazing noses too! For example, most cats love toys that contain catnip, which they respond to by sniffing it, rubbing on it, rolling around, and even trying to eat it. But if your cat is not a catnip fan (and even if they are), there are some other substances that cats respond to in a similar way: silver vine, valerian and Tatarian honeysuckle. These can be great enrichment too, and research shows most cats will respond to at least one of them.

To learn more about this and get many more tips for happier dogs and cats, sign up for my webinar series on the science of making pets happy. Your pets will thank you.

Zazie Todd, PhD, is an animal behaviour expert and award-winning writer who loves nothing better than helping people resolve issues with their pets. Zazie will be hosting The Science of Making Your Pets Happy: Webinar Series.

Zazie Todd, Ph.D