This morning, while Riker (my four-year-old Australian Shepherd) and I were walking around the Oceanside Harbor, I saw his nose twitch and his head swivel. He had caught the scent of something and was trying to find it. His nostrils flared and he inhaled deeply, bringing more air in as he processed the scent. It only took him seconds to pinpoint the location of the gray ground squirrel perched on a large stone near the sidewalk ahead of us. As Riker stared and sniffed, the squirrel froze for a few seconds, hoping to avoid detection, then dashed off the stone and into a burrow underneath. Riker, on a leash, couldn’t run after the squirrel, but he sure wanted to!
I enjoy watching Riker on our walks. He sees and smells a much different world than I do. At the harbor, I see the boats on the water and the seagulls flying overhead, and I smell the sea air. But watching Riker’s reactions enables me to see so much more.
Dogs see very differently than we do. Although the ability to see can vary from dog to dog, just as it does with people, most dogs are near-sighted compared to us. Testing dogs’ ability to see is, of course, very difficult but most experts agree that most dogs see well close up but their vision fades about a quarter mile away. So a squirrel 12 feet away is very clear, but a seagull flying out over the ocean is probably not at all visible.
Dogs’ vision is also designed to detect movement much more than ours is. We can see and recognize a squirrel sitting still on a rock, but most dogs recognize the squirrel once it dashes away. That’s why most prey animals will freeze — hold still in place — once they have been spotted.
Don’t feel sorry for your dog’s mediocre visual abilities, though. They are more than made up for by his incredible sense of smell. Unless the wind is coming strongly from behind us, Riker always smells the squirrels before he sees them. It’s very difficult for most dog owners to understand how important a dog’s sense of smell is to the dog; after all, our sense of smell is so underdeveloped that we can’t smell a squirrel at all unless we stick our nose in its fur! But dogs can smell the differences between individual squirrels and even discern what the squirrel has been eating.
Dogs also see the world from a different perspective. Lie down on the ground and position yourself so that your eyes are at the same level as your dog’s eyes. Now look around. What do you see? Changes in the ground, mounds and gullies, seem both deeper and taller. Street curbs even seem different. Riker’s eyes are 18 inches off the ground when he’s relaxed, and at that height I stare into bushes instead of down on them. A retaining wall seems much more formidable and a park bench looks like a barricade rather than someplace to relax. It’s a different world.
The next time you go for a walk with your dog, instead of watching the world around you, pay close attention to your dog. What is he sniffing? Obviously, he will sniff the ground and poke around in the long grass and sometimes you won’t want to know what he’s smelling. But pay attention when his head goes up and he’s sifting the air currents. Where is the breeze coming from? Then watch him as he tries to sort it out. When he spots something, see if you can spot it, too. Sharing your dog’s perceptions of the world will enable you to see both your dog and the world around you in a whole new way.
Article written by Author: Liz Palika