A leaf falls, an acorn bounces across the pavement, a rodent whizzes by in a flash of brown or grey. While these things may signify the change of season to humans, to our canine friends it screams “FIELD DAY!” Although we didn’t sign up for this game, who hasn’t had the misfortune of being dragged along as an unwilling participant in this pursuit to hunt, pounce, sniff or chew on the harbingers of Fall? Leashes get wrapped around legs, arms get pulled out of sockets, and some even claim mild whiplash! While we all want our four legged friends to be able to sniff the world through rose colored noses, do we ever ask why they doggedly (no pun intended) pursue animal, vegetable, or mineral?
It’s Called Prey Chase Instinct
Pray chase drive is a predatory instinct, which means this survival tactic is embedded in the DNA of all canines. Although some breeds have a stronger drive than others, all dogs possess some of these traits. It can be stalking, chasing, digging, or sniffing in order to hunt down and explore (or worse.) a moving object.
Because the arrival of Fall brings a multitude of movement: falling fruit and nuts, trees shedding their leaves, and squirrels and chipmunks stocking up on an abundance of inventory, the season is ripe for prey chase instincts to kick in. This cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells excites the senses of pups everywhere. After all, before our beloved dogs became man’s best friend, their sole responsibility was to survive in the wild. In order to do this, they relied on their senses. Eyes, ears, and especially their nose aided them in catching prey(aka: dinner). So millions of years before the Bee Gees sang Stayin Alive, dogs everywhere knew that prey instinct would allow them to live to see another day.
The Nose that Knows
About that proboscis: our canine companions possess 300,000,000 olfactory glands compared to a humans’ paltry 6,000. To put this into perspective, this superpower allows dogs to smell a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that dogs can instinctually follow the path of a scurrying chipmunk that was there a nanosecond before. While we smell nothing, our dog smells the most aromatic shish kabob on four tiny legs. The same goes for leaves and nuts: each leaf has a different scent, acorns entice with their smooth outer shell and crunchy inside. Nuts also roll, which makes them extra attractive. So although many things may be harmful for our pets to ingest, it’s quite amusing that while we scold our pups for sniffing and chewing on some unusual fare, we too eat leaves (spinach, artichoke), and nuts (walnut, cashews, ad infinitum). So let’s not judge our furry friends too harshly as we pry open their mouths to swipe out items quite similar to the ones we munch on!
(It only killed the cat!)
Dogs spend most of their life in the state of perpetual childhood. Many need reminding or corrections due to their overwhelming sense of curiosity. What other animal rips up the entire leather interior of a car just to see what’s inside or sticks their nose under a fence only for another dog to nip them? Has anyone ever seen a cat rip the stuffing out of pillows or chew the heels off shoes? Never. Do cats “unload” your groceries looking for the rotisserie chicken at the bottom? Haven’t seen that. Or the one I wish I didn’t see: the ever so curious dog that must greet each newcomer with a sniff to the crotch. Let’s face it: once our canine companion catches a scent, nothing can stop them from getting to the bottom of it.
Good vs. Not So Evil
This time of year can incite panic as we watch our pooches hunker down to stalk unsuspecting prey, gag on fragrant leaves, or chase a rolling acorn into the street. Yet, we have to remember that these instincts are also used to do good. This unbelievable ability allows many of our pups’ brethren to find missing children, catch predators (the human kind), and keep us safe on trains, planes, and automobiles. They can also use their abilities to assist people who are ill or visually impaired. So when you are about to scold your dog for biting at a falling leaf, dirtying their snout as they search for a warm snack, or knocking you off your feet when they run full tilt to catch a squirrel, understand it’s this innate impulse that has kept their species alive. So, despite all of the palpitations and pulled muscles they’ve given us, what would this season be without them? Somehow, I think we’d view the leaves as a bit duller. Acorns would be swept away without ever knowing the sound of their crunch. Sticks and twigs would just be debris, never a toy that provided a fun game of fetch. So as this season of change is upon us, let us follow our dogs lead and stop with them to watch a falling leaf, see where a rolling acorn lands, and appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells of this beautiful season.
Written by: Lynn Velluzzi (Hoofer by day/ Blogger by night)