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Dog's Sense of Smell: Facts, Strength & How it Can Help You | Pupford

September 26th, 2023

Filed under Health + Wellness

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“The sense of smell in all dogs is their primary doorway to the world around them” - Robert Crais, Author

As dog parents, there are so many questions we have about our furry pals.

Sometimes we sit back and say “what are they thinking?”. Especially those times when they spend a while at a tree in the park, or a specific corner of your yard.

Your pup gets caught up in the scents of the world around them often and it can be hard for us humans to know what exactly they are experiencing.

In this article, we'll dive into your dog's sense of smell. How they smell, why dog's noses are often wet, how to use your dog's 'nose' for work, and more!

Let's get right to it 👇

How Do Dogs Smell? Hint: Scent Receptors

how-do-dogs-smell | Pupford

So, first of all, how do dogs smell?

With their nose of course 😉 But let's learn more...

Did you know - humans have about 6 million olfactory receptors in our noses, while dogs possess up to 300 million!

That means that your dog’s sense of smell is about 40 times greater than yours!

On top of that, dogs even have a second capability for smelling from an organ that humans don’t even possess! The “vomeronasal organ” is located at the bottom of the nasal passage and is used to pick up the unique scent of animal species pheromones.

This organ’s purpose is to detect “mating readiness” and other sexual related scents.

These are seemingly “undetectable” odors to most, but for canines - this scent is real!

Related Reading: Dog Nose Facts

Why Is My Dog’s Nose Wet?

close-up-of-wet-dog-nose | Pupford

In order to efficiently capture scents, a dog’s nose works best when it’s damp!

For canines, nose moisture is critical to their sense of smell. So much so that a smart dog will actually lick their nose if it becomes dry.

The moisture on your dog’s nose helps efficiently capture scent particles. Your pup doesn’t want their sense of smell to be limited so they are inclined to wet their own nose in order to heighten their senses.

🐶 If you need some extra stinky treats sure to get your dog's attention, check out our Freeze-Dried Salmon Training Treats!

What If My Dog’s Nose is Dry?

close-up-of-fawn-pugs-nose | Pupford

A lot of Pug and Bulldog owners will notice that their pup’s nose is usually dryer than other dogs.

This is because these breeds have trouble licking their own nose to keep it moist due to their short snouts. Older dogs may deal with this as well, as they age they may forget to lick their nose to wet it.

A dab of dog nose balm can help out in these situations!

(👇 PS- this is Buddy, he's a 14-year-old Puggle and his sense of smell is just about the only reliable sense he has left 😂)

buddy-a-senior-puggle | Pupford

How Dogs Use Scent to Work & Help Humans

Here are some tasks dogs help humans achieve with their smelling capabilities.

Hunting For Mushrooms

spaniel-searching-for-mushrooms | Pupford

Mushroom hunting is a very popular and profitable task where a dog’s sense of smell is valuable. A truffle mushroom is a very expensive find that historically was hunted by pigs.

However, training has helped dogs break into this hunting career because a canine can be easily trained NOT to eat the plants they find.

Breeds that are great at truffle mushroom hunting include poodles, hounds, and springer spaniels.

In Italy, you’ll find the breed Lagotta Romagnolo, which looks a lot like an unsheared poodle.

These dogs are specifically bred for truffle hunting!

Diabetic Companions

diabetes-aid-dog | Pupford

If you are a diabetic, having a canine companion is helpful in detecting low and high blood sugar levels.

Diabetic Alert Dogs can sense the chemical change levels in such a precise way that they can alert their owner when it is dangerous. Many dogs in this position will go for long periods of time without having to alert their companion, even years.

This type of training is ongoing and it’s important to remember to keep them motivated.

Identifying Criminal Activities

do-not-cross-crime-scene | Pupford

The most common use of a dog’s sense of smell is to help with criminal convictions and arrests. In the US, you often see dogs being used to sniff through airports, government buildings and other public and private spaces in order to detect illegal substances and/or explosives.

In other countries, dogs are even sometimes used for actual criminal convictions!

In Finland for example, they will use a dog’s sense of smell to pinpoint the criminal in a line up. These “scent lineups” allow dogs to smell evidence and then make their way through the suspects to identify the right one.

We haven’t adopted this method fully in the United States, but there have been some cases that use a dog’s “scent lineups” to help!

🐶 If you need some extra stinky treats sure to get your dog's attention, check out our Freeze-Dried Salmon Training Treats!

Tracking & Helping Endangered Species

dog-sniffing-for-mushrooms | Pupford

Trained dog trackers are helping endangered species such as tigers, spotted owls, whales, and caribou.

Using the scent of species fecal matter and droppings, scientists are using nose work training to help reveal where species are living and what may be a danger to them.

Last year, they were even training dogs to track endangered reptiles, such as the blunt-nosed leopard lizard.

We really are so lucky to have dogs!

How You Can Use Your Dog’s Sense of Smell When Training

Now that you know a bit more about your dog’s sense of smell, let’s have some fun with training and games!

Here are some ways to use your dog's sense of smell for training and enrichment.

Scavenger Hunt

dog-about-to-sniff-treats | Pupford

A simple game to engage your dog is to play a treat or food scavenger hunt around the house or backyard.

Place treats randomly throughout the area and then encourage your dog to locate them by scent.

The best way to do this is to show them the treats before you are placing them, allowing them to smell it.

Once they find a few that are in full view they will quickly pick up the scent and start to look for the others!

Place them in less obvious places, in corners of rooms, between cushions, behind tables…etc.

You won’t want to overdo it with the treats if they are larger or high in calories, just two or three will do!

Or, you can try to use healthier, smaller training treats (ps- we've got you covered here) so the game can last longer!

Choose a Hand

dog-being-pet-by-a-human | Pupford

This is a fun game to mentally stimulate your dog and utilize their sense of smell!

Using a small, tasty treat such as some freeze-dried salmon (something your dog loves and that has a strong smell!) put it into the palm of your hand.

Make a loose fist, palm down and offer your dog that fist. Let them sniff and identify that there is something inside your hand.

While they are sniffing, make sure to say “Find it!” and then offer the treat and reward them by saying “Good! Find It!”.

Repeat this a few times for training.

After you’ve repeated it and your dog has learned the cue, add your other empty fist.

Make sure the dog doesn’t see which hand you are putting the treat into. Offer both hands and say “Find it!”.

Dog's Sense of Smell Recap

Training your dog’s sense of smell at home with fun games and nose work can be a really great way to keep them motivated, stimulated and enjoying life!

Educating yourself on how you can better train and understand your dog is a part of being a great dog parent!

Remember, a dog's sense of smell is one of their strongest attributes, so use it!'

PS- If you need some extra stinky treats sure to get your dog's attention, check out our Freeze-Dried Salmon Training Treats!


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