We all know that dogs have amazing noses, but you won’t believe just how good a dog’s sense of smell is. From expanded capacity in their brain, more sense receptors and even using their ears to aid in smelling, a dogs sense of smell is so good we, as humans, employ them in several unique jobs where they can out perform not only us, but also technology. Check out these interesting facts about a dog’s sense of smell and then explore some of the unique jobs for dogs which make use of their super sense.
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Dogs Are Built To Use Their Noses
“Why does my dog smell everything?”
Dogs are literally built around their sense of smell. It is their primary sense, like sight is to us. In fact, I’ve always joked that Darwin, our beagle, is a 3 foot nose with a tail at the end! Dogs “see” the world through their sense of smell and are capable of an incredibly accurate perception of their surroundings. Not only can they smell what is directly around them, they can smell the past, being able to track scents that were laid down up to 14 days ago. They can also smell the minute changes in your body that occur with your changing emotions, so they can actually smell your fear, your sadness, and your happiness.
Dogs noses contain up to 300 million scent receptors, also known as olfactory receptors. These are the clever little cells that turn odour molecules into electrical signals for the brain to interpret. In comparison, us measly humans have a lowly 6 million. The shape of their heads also contribute to a better sense of smell. Have you ever noticed that scent dogs, such as hounds, have big floppy ears? Trust me, it does nothing to improve their listening abilities, this adaptation is actually a part of their smelling kit. When their nose is trailing the ground, their ears fall forward and create a pocket around the dog’s face which focuses the air they are smelling into their noses, amazing stuff!
A Dog’s Brain Is Centred Around Smell
To make the best use of all that extra information that a dog’s olfactory receptors send to the brain, they have an area devoted to smell that is 40 times greater than humans do! The pairing of all those receptors AND a larger processing area in the brain means dogs can do some incredible things with their sense of smell.
In fact, a dog’s sense of smell is so powerful they can pick out one part per trillion of an odour. That’s the equivalent of one teaspoon in two Olympic sized swimming pools.
It is said that a dog can enter a room with 10 people sat around them, and within a few seconds they can identify who is in the room, where they are sitting, and even how they are feeling, all from a few sniffs. A dog’s sense of smell is truly remarkable. In fact there is a study that links the odour of a dog’s owner with the pleasure centre of their brain. Functional MRI scans showed activity that indicates joy and happiness when a dog was given a sniff of their owner. You can read more about the study here.
Dogs That Use Their Nose For A Job
Now we’ve had a closer look at how good a dog’s sense of smell is, we’re going to explore some of the jobs that dogs use their sense of smell for. From traditional uses such as finding food or tracking somebody, to cutting edge modern uses such as disease identification and alerting of on-setting medical emergencies.
Medical Detection And Medical Emergency Alert Dogs
A dog’s nose is so powerful that they can sniff out illness in people. Making use of their supreme smelling power, medical professionals have now trained dogs to identify a huge number of diseases including cancer, malaria and Covid-19. Have a look at this video showing the amazing work being done by the medical detection dogs charity.
Not only can dogs’s noses identify the unique smell of many diseases, they can also smell the onset of certain medical emergencies in their owner. Medical alert dogs can give warning of an impending issue for people suffering with Type-1 Diabetes, severe allergies, Addison’s disease and several other potential life threatening conditions.
If you want to learn more about these fabulous medical detection dogs you can check out the charity’s web site here.
Fire Investigation And Search & Rescue Dogs
Fire services around the world are making use of the fantastic sense of smell dogs have by training them for multiple roles that can save life and aid investigations.
By training dogs to recognise the smell of accelerants, a fire investigation dog can identify a malicious and criminal intent to a fire. Even through the myriad of smells left after a fire, they can identify trace amounts of fuels such as petrol, paint thinners or kerosene, aiding the fire service and police in identifying the cause of a fire.
Urban search and rescue dogs are used by their respective services to aid in the identification and recovery of people in circumstances such as collapsed buildings, earthquakes and terrorist incidents. Dogs can either be trained in the location of live persons or in the deceased, these are known as cadaver dogs. There are endless stories of dogs finding and saving people days after an incident who had been thought lost. The most famous of incidents where the use of dogs was brought to the attention of millions world wide was on September 11th 2001 in the World Trade Centre attack in New York City where it is believed over 300 rescue dogs were used to aid efforts.
Sniffer Or Detection Dogs
Used across the globe, in a vast array of locations, such as airports, prisons, border crossings public events and schools and universities, sniffer dogs can be used to identify almost any illicit or illegal substance. From drugs to explosives, by making use of the incredible dog’s sense of smell, enforcement agencies can ensure the public’s safety, fight the illegal drug trade and prevent dangerous materials getting into the wrong hands.
But it’s not only malicious human activity that these dogs can sniff out. There are dogs used in the state of California that are trained to identify Quagga Mussels on boats when they come into dock. These are an invasive species and threaten the natural ecology of the waterways, so finding, and eliminating them is crucial work. And it is the work of their trained canines that allow that work to happen.
Drug detection dogs can be trained to signal several different odours, in fact some border forces claim up to 13 – 15 different drugs can be identified by their dogs. And they can even locate them through other odours, thus rendering the masking of them pointless.
Truffle Hunting Dogs
Most people know that truffles are traditionally found by using pigs to hunt them out throughout the forests where these delicious fungi grow. But did you know that dogs are regularly used to hunt out the truffles? By using truffle as part of their games as a puppy, a truffle loving dog owner can very easily and quickly build up the relationship of the smell of a truffle and the positive experience of high value rewards so will begin actively seeking out the smell of truffles when given the correct environment.
And unlike the better known truffle hunting pigs, dogs aren’t interested in eating the truffles, they just want to find and identify the location to their owner. As with any smell related task, it’s all a game for the dog, and hunting for truffles means hours of fun roaming through the forests, nose to the ground, pleasing their owners, so dogs absolutely love it.
Fancy giving it a try? There are numerous places where you can experience a day as a truffle hunter using already established truffle hunting dogs or you can begin training your own as a puppy. Just imagine all those delicious truffle flavoured goodies you could make!
Rare And Endangered Animal Tracking
Across the globe, dogs are used by scientists, charities and various agencies to track, and save, rare and endangered animals. By training them to recognise the unique smell of a particular creature’s scat (or poop!), individuals can learn more about these animals allowing for better understanding and for improved protective measures to be put in place. Using dogs for this allows for a large search area to be covered in fairly short time, they are fast and efficient and actually enjoy the work, they are environmentally friendly and, probably most importantly, it’s cool as heck!
One conservation dog that highlights the incredible skill of these animals is Tucker, a black Labrador that was formally a stray living on the streets of Seattle, that has the prodigious title of ‘world’s first canine marine biologist’. This guy can sniff out Orca poo from miles away, and he’s got to be quick about it too. It sinks very quickly so he has to identify the smell, locate it’s source, and then provide directions to the boat crew for them to follow so they can track down the pod of whales. I mean, if that doesn’t impress you I don’t know what would. Check out Tucker in action below.
Other animals that have been tracked or located using dogs include newts, wolves, cougars, grizzly bears and otters. And endangered species tracking dogs are a pretty new development, so the potential is huge for what could be achieved.
Pest Location And Identification
So not only can we use dogs for finding animals we want to know are there, but we can also employ them to find the critters we wish weren’t. From bed bugs to rats, that super powered nose can be used to get to the source of an infestation and allow appropriate action to be taken. It may not work out too well for the pests, but for us humans, it can prove most useful.
So there you have a it, a long hard look at the amazing sense of smell that dogs posses, and how we use it to make our world better, safer and even tastier.