Why Does a Shih Tzu Sniff Heavily?

by Serena Wiley
(Windsor Mill, Maryland)

When Brie goes out, it seems as if she has a difficult time catching her scent in order to go to the bathroom. She sniffs the ground so hard it appears she is digging into the ground with face and nose then she flips all around as if she is having a seizure, HELP.

Our Answer

Poor Brie, it sounds like those 220 million scent receptors in her little button nose are really working overtime. But try not to worry too much, it’s not unusual for a pooch to put a lot of thought and effort into finding the “right spot.” Outside of her own yard my senior dog Gypsy can take a good ten minutes to find the perfect place to pee. I often wonder what makes her reject one place over another.

What are They Smelling?

As mentioned, dogs have around 220 million scent receptors compared to humans who have only 5 million. Think of how fragrant a smashed clove of garlic or a fresh-baked apple pie can be; Brie is smelling everything at a level of 44 times stronger than the smelliest smells we’ve ever whiffed. Amazing!

And beyond that dogs have something called the Jacobson’s organ which they use to taste scents and identify them better.

We all know our dogs like to use the same pee and poop spots over and over again – we use this information to our advantage when housebreaking a new puppy. But they are smelling much more than just their last mark when they sniff the ground. They also smell all the other dogs that have gone to the bathroom in that spot and are discerning the age, gender and health of those dogs. Knowing which way the healthy, well-fed dogs went is an important bit of knowledge to any animal, even a pampered Shih Tzu.

While sniffing the ground dogs can also detect insects and plants. According to The Canine Training Center dogs can smell scent articles wafting up from 40 feet under the ground. That’s a lot of work for one little nose.

Seizure Symptoms

As to your concerns about her seizure-like behaviour, does she actually display the symptoms of a canine seizure?:

  • Nervous or agitated behavior that includes salivating, whining or hiding
  • Spastic muscle contractions
  • The appearance of being paralyzed
  • Loss of bowel control
A canine seizure typically lasts a few seconds to a few minutes. Brie would not be able to continue doing her business if she were having a seizure and would appear confused or disoriented after the incident. If she’s not experiencing any of these symptoms maybe she’s just super excited to have found the perfect potty spot.

If you have any concerns about her health be sure to consult your veterinarian, but what you're describing here doesn't sound like anything to be worried about -- just a funny little quirk of beautiful Brie!

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