Let Dogs Sniff! Lessons in parenting from my research into canine curiosity!

I was recently listening to Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast (if you haven’t come across this podcast yet, it is a wonderful mixture of fun banter and exploitation of ideas – my favorite kind of podcast, but I digress) where he was interviewing Natalie Portman. At some point in the interview, they began talking about why we should let dogs sniff and that when we let them sniff, they are more relaxed and better behaved.

Intrigued, I started to research…it is amazing what you can find when you ask Google something.

What I came across was fascinating. . .there were so many articles on this topic. I chose the academic articles as I thought they would provide me with the most credible research studies.

A 2019 report published in the Applied Animal Behavior Science Journal says that providing plentiful sniffing opportunities can make your dog more optimistic. It reports that if we allow our dogs a chance to explore their surroundings through smell, they will enjoy going on walks more and will be more mentally stimulated, gain confidence, and, ultimately, be more tired and relaxed.

It turns out that sniffing is how dogs learn about the world. It’s their way of gathering information, understanding their environment, and communicating with other dogs and their human friends. When we let them engage in this natural behavior, we give them the freedom to be themselves, follow their instincts, and fully experience their surroundings.

I hate to admit it, but I ended up spending way too much time reading scientific studies about dog sniffing (but I was on vacation, so I had the time!) I think I became so fascinated with the “sniffing” research because, believe it or not, there are a lot of parallels to adolescent development, which is a passion of mine and something I have spent a lot of time studying.

Just like dogs, teenagers are navigating a complex world, seeking opportunities to explore, discover their identities and make sense of their surroundings. What I realized is there are many lessons to be learned from these dog sniffing studies that can be applied to raising and guiding teenagers.


Just as sniffing allows dogs to learn about the world, exploration and curiosity play vital roles in our high school students’ development. When we encourage and give our children the space and time to explore diverse interests, activities, and opportunities, we provide them with tools to gain a broader understanding of the world around them. Participating in community projects, joining extracurricular clubs, and pursuing hobbies of their own choice and pace allows teens to explore, expand their horizons, nurture their passions, and develop a well-rounded perspective.

Mental Stimulation

Sniffing works a dog’s brain by keeping them mentally stimulated and engaged. Similarly, our high school students excel when they are intellectually challenged and stimulated. When we provide them with opportunities for critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative expression, we enhance their cognitive abilities, fuel their curiosity, and prepare them for the demands of higher education and future careers.

Stress Relief

Another significant benefit of sniffing for our canine friends is stress relief. It’s fascinating how allowing them the freedom to explore and discover through their sense of smell can alleviate stress and promote relaxation. As we know, high school students face a lot of academic and social pressures. Encouraging activities that they genuinely enjoy and find fulfilling can be relaxing and provide them with much-needed stress relief. When they have a chance to relax, they feel recharged and show more resilience when encountering challenges or stressful situations.  

Feelings of well-being

It’s not surprising that sniffing just feels good for dogs. Likewise, when teens engage in activities they are interested and curious about, they feel good. They experience a sense of fulfillment, joy, and purpose. Whether they are pursuing the arts, sports, community service, or other areas of interest, allowing them to follow their passions not only enhances their lives but also supports their personal growth, self-confidence, and leads to overall happiness.

Improves communication

Lastly, sniffing serves as a form of communication for dogs. It allows them to express themselves, understand their environment, and connect with other dogs, animals, and humans. Likewise, our teens benefit tremendously from developing effective communication skills and building meaningful connections. When they engage in team activities, collaborate on projects, and participate in social initiatives, they improve their interpersonal skills and their understanding of diverse perspectives.

As parents, we can take these valuable lessons learned from dog sniffing and apply them to our approach to raising and supporting our teens. 

Encourage your teen to “sniff” out their surroundings; encourage curiosity; encourage exploration! From these studies, we know exploration stimulates their minds, provides stress relief, increases happiness, and promotes communication. When we allow them to explore, we empower them to navigate the complexities of adolescence with resilience, confidence, and a sense of purpose. 

So, let’s give our teens “the gift of sniff” and watch as they become successful explorers of life!

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