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Why Do Dogs Find Leaf Piles So Fascinating?

By Tamara McRill

“Hi, my name is Cody and I am a leaf-aholic.” At least that’s how I imagine the meeting would start, if we could get our dog to admit he has an unhealthy obsession with brightly colored piles of leaves. Okay, he even finds the brown, beaten down crispy ones fascinating.

Of course it’s unhealthy only in the sense that we, his humans, worry about what unsafe things might be under there and like to have his attention during most of the walk. Cody, like most dogs, is pretty sure it’s just super fun and important.

Eau de Rotting Stuff 

Why are leaf piles so fascinating to dogs? Because of all of the glorious outdoorsy smells of decomposing vegetation, rich dirt. And other interesting scents.

Olfaction, smelling something, is the primary sense dogs use. They rely on it to interpret the world, much like people rely on sight. Dogs have more than 220 million scent receptors in their noses. In comparison, humans have only five million.

So when they smell something particularly pungent, like rotting piles of leaves, they just have to investigate.

Getting Away from the Leaves

A well-trained dog may not have any trouble passing by something interesting if they aren’t on leave to explore. They may also leave it alone on command. If you’re dealing with impulse control issues, like we are, you’ll have to work with your pet until he follows commands. Make sure you have some tasty goodies, like CANIDAE dog treats, on hand as rewards.

Of course you can’t wait until your dog is totally trained to walk them. They need plenty of exercise. Try firm commands first; just don’t be surprised if that doesn’t work. When Cody’s nose is frantically burrowing through the leaf pile and his tail is wagging like crazy, I know my voice might as well be a hundred miles away.

So I gently take the tip of my shoe and slide it under his nose. Nothing like the smell of one of his human’s feet to remind a dog you’re still there. That trick usually works, but you might also want to keep a few treats in your pocket to lure them with.

Safe Leafy Fun

Knowing how much my dog loves rooting through leaves, I would never totally deny him that joy, especially since nosing through leaves and running through them are two of my dogs’ favorite fall activities. (Right after the “Look, the Neighbor Kids Are Home” game.) I do reserve the right, however, to make sure it is a safe pile of leaves.

Here are some tips:

- Use leaf piles you raked yourself, so you know what’s there.
- Remove any sticks, so your dog doesn’t get poked in the eye or nose.
- Keep piles away from standing water, to avoid mosquitoes and chemical runoff.
- Stay away from trees with squirrels. You know which one they’ll go after first.
- Make sure the rake is put away. Those things are just dangerous.

Also make sure you carefully check your dog’s coat and perform other fall pet care routines when they are done playing in the leaves. Be sure to look out for any ticks or red patches that signify an allergy.

Does your dog have a love of leaf piles? How do you get their attention back?

Photo by Aine D.

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