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Understanding your Dog’s Sense of Smell

Understanding your Dog’s Sense of Smell

As a dog owner, you likely already know that canines can be a bit nosy; often placing their snouts in areas they don’t belong. However, have you ever considered just how strong a dog’s sense of smell is?  Whereas a human could walk into a kitchen a say, “I smell pizza!” a dog could walk into the very same area and proclaim, “I smell tomatoes, garlic, white flour, yeast, mozzarella cheese, onion, and a hint of oregano.”  In fact, dogs use this famously strong sense to chemically communicate with one other, which explains strange dog habits, such as sniffing one another’s rear ends.  Everything you need to know about your dog’s sense of smell is discussed below.

Dogs can detect scents in parts per trillion concentrations The next time you become frustrated while out on a walk with your pup, think of this amazing statistic:  your dog can detect a scent in a concentration that, as an analogy, is equivalent to one second over the course of 32,000 years.  In comparison, humans can detect scents in the parts per billion concentration range, which is roughly equivalent to 1 second over the course of 32 years.  Just think of what types of smells your dog may be picking up with that kind of sensitivity!

Dogs can smell human emotions Have you ever heard someone say that a dog can smell fear?  As it turns out, this statement is true.  When the chemistry within our bodies changes due to the secretion of hormones (such as adrenaline) a human’s “signature scent” will change as well.  Although this change is imperceptible to other humans, dogs possess an organ, the Jacobson’s Organ, in their noses that specifically serves as a chemical indicator.

Dogs communicate with one another chemically As embarrassing for you as it may be for your dog to greet a new friend by immediately engaging in a butt-sniffing session, this is actually one of many ways that your dog is communicating with its new pal.  The aforementioned Jacobson’s Organ tells a dog everything it needs to know about another dog thanks to the chemicals secreted by the dog’s anal glands, including emotional state, approximate age, sex, and diet.  Whereas humans find out these details about one another via small talk, dogs streamline the process with a couple well-aimed sniffs!

Dogs have a greater number of scent receptors and analyzers in their nose and brain than humans What is the reason behind the dog’s amazing sense of smell?  Scientists have determined that dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose, depending on breed.  Scent hounds, such as beagles, have a greater number of these receptors, while a short-nosed dog, such as a pug, likely has fewer.  In contrast, humans have approximately 400 olfactory receptors.  While having so many scent receptors is impressive, the second necessary component is the area of the brain that processes smells.  In dogs, this area is approximately 40 times greater than that of humans, which is why dogs can perform amazing tasks, such as sniffing out bombs, cancer, and low blood sugar.

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