My dogs and I are not paying attention to the same things, almost to the point of no overlap. Though we are in the exact same situation, mere inches apart, we are experiencing completely different sensations and prioritizing unrelated stimuli. For example, I will notice a person sitting in their car with the windows rolled down, maybe on the phone, maybe smoking a joint. My first impulse is to put some space between us. Just to be polite. We’re outside, no need to bunch up and crowd each other.
Decaf, my male dog, starts manically sniffing the grass along the length of the car, back and forth, from tail pipe to engine. It’s like he’s able to sniff gold and he can smell the jackpot. I’m not sure I do anything with the level of passion he displays multiple times a day sniffing grass. After twirling in a circle a few times right next to the car door, he settles in for a poop. Seriously! I feel like a jerk. If I was in the car I would definitely be like, Move along lady, why are you lurking directly out my window? Ugh! My dogs are oblivious to other people. Humans do not register.
When approaching a group, Decaf will zig in front of me and zag in front of them causing everyone an inconvenience. I know this and so I tighten the leash and move us to the side. Even constrained, he strains to be under foot. I would think he too would want to avoid all this kinetic action but no, he struggles mightily to remain in alignment with the scent he is tracking. He is laser focused on smell. I don’t know what people mean to him. Are they like streetlamps are to me? Something in the vicinity that doesn’t need to be regarded? I would think that people would be noteworthy. They are to some dogs.
Just the other day a big dog with a ball in his mouth bounded up to me and my friend and needed to say hello to each of us. We received a good sniff from him and a small whine which seemed to be relieved by petting and acknowledgement. Then he loped off.
I like friendly dogs. I hope, if there are more dogs in my future, they are friendly. That’s because I’m friendly and it would feel more comfortable to me. Neither of my dogs are friendly. Decaf is like a navy seal. He is on a mission. Period. There is nothing else. Feather, the female, is traumatized and everything scares her. She flees from all interactions. But if people are NOT trying to interact, then it’s like they don’t exist, and she also seems oblivious to our proximity to others. She mostly focuses on Decaf. If he demonstrates that a patch of weedy grass deserves a good long smell session, she is going to wait patiently until he is done, you don’t smell in tandem apparently, and then she is going to daintily sniff about a bit. Nothing too excessive. She doesn’t seem to get as worked up about it as he does, but she does do something, and she sure takes her time with it. If it’s inconveniently happening near other people, so what?
I am super attuned to other people. How far away they are, what direction they are walking, whether we will intersect and when. Don’t you hate it when you can tell you and someone walking at a right angle to you will collide if you keep going at the same pace? Who’s going to concede and step aside? But aside from the haughty feeling I should have the right of way, I like people and am fine with crossing paths with them. I am not attuned because I am afraid. It’s just part of what registers and most of that registering comes from sight. A little bit comes from listening.
Decaf is mostly only using his nose. If I could be a dog for ten minutes or an hour or a day I would do it. I am not the most adventurous person but this I would do in a heartbeat. I am dying to know what he smells. But not with my nose and my general aroma ignorance. I want to smell with his nose and more importantly I want to perceive the information he is receiving. I want to know what he knows. I want to feel what he feels. Why is that particular spot of grass so psychedelic? Is his fevered and desperate sniffing, huffing, circling, tracking and trailing over a small patch of grass like getting to sample Albert Hoffman’s original batch of LSD? Is it like reading the last ten pages of a whodunit? Is it like hearing the numbers of a winning lottery ticket? Please share the pleasure with me!
But perhaps we could constrain my shape shifting fantasy to invisible smells only. Both dogs have a perplexing attraction to excrement. Yet another point of division between us as to what merits our attention during the daily walks.
I was reading this to my husband to see if my observations squared with him and he said, you should call this one: I Don’t Give A Shit About You But I Do Give A Shit About Shit. This is why I married him. He makes me laugh. And to be clear, that title would be from the perspective of Decaf, not me. I most certainly do give a shit about you and I hope you are doing well.
2 thoughts on “Stop What You’re Doing and Smell This!”
Thanks for this entertaining and insightful account of your dogs and their sniffing habits. It also intrigues me. When I walk my beautiful big dog, Huxley, in the park he stops and sniffs in the way you describe and often it is the same spots along the path that attract him. It’s as if he is watching a ‘scent video’ of the dogs who have been there ahead of him. Although he is a friendly being, most people are scared of him because he is so big. I, of course, cannot understand why (!) but use a harness as it is easier to hold him back if the other party is nervous.
Dogs and their disgusting fascination with excrement is difficult to deal with (understatement!) especially as the dog seems to think he smells delicious when coated in it. And then gets very indignant when scrubbed down.
You can see from this long comment that you have hit a chord!
Thank you for this response Mariss! So much of the joy of living with an animal is watching them. I feel like I have learned so much about myself and my mammal nature from observing them. Even though this post is about the ways we are different, I see from them that I also disregard many interesting things and I like to wonder what they find exciting. I like your phrase “scent video”. That’s perfect! Huxley is a great dog name. My male dog Decaf also loves to roll in stink and of course he’s the first to want to cuddle on the couch. He’s always needing a rub down to get the stink off. Basically every day is a comedy routine.
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