This is a German word meaning environment and is a concept introduced by biologist Jakob von Uexküll - and is specifically focusing on the way that an individual organism processes their environment based on their ecological and behavioural capabilities.
How we process our environment is very different to how that of a mosquito will. It is also very different to how a dog will.
Us humans are often so quick to forget that we are not the center of the universe and that our way is not the only way. Our umwelt is based on our own unique perception - we are generally visual. We will visually interpret an environment and make an assessment based on what we view. We will touch things with our hands, and we like particular smells and dislike particular smells.
A dog, however, relies primarily on scent - this is the way that they will process their environment. They like particular smells and dislike particular smells.
We think rolling in fox poo is gross. Dogs think it’s ace!
Dogs may even dream in scent…
Did you know that dogs have one nasal passage for breathing, and another for smelling? Or that a dog has something called a vomeronasal organ (otherwise known as the Jacobson organ) which is involved in the Flehmen response and is necessary for the detection of pheromones? So, when a male dog starts salivating and curling their lip when sniffing, this is usually them detecting the pheromones of a lady dog and getting a bit smoochy… This has been likened to them actually tasting the scent.
We put our dogs into our world and often expect them to slip seamlessly into our umwelt. We even dull down or discourage things that are often healthy and normal for dogs such as scavenging (although this again is muddied by the fact that humans litter things which are unsafe for dogs to eat). However, we often feed them the same food in the same bowl in the same place.
I would encourage you this week, to not only think about what you want your dog to do, but what does your dog want to do? And why?
We have such a limited understanding of our dog’s umwelt - and it’s truly amazing how much they tolerate of our inadequacies, so the least we could do is let them sniff!