How Strong Is a Dog's Sense of Smell?

by Sydney Hess

Close up shot of black dog's nose

Sniffing is incredibly enriching to dogs because of their keen sense of smell.

Anyone who is familiar with dogs knows that they are keen on using their sniffers. From pulling you off course on a walk to indulge in a particularly interesting scent, to sniffing butts at the park, they are always gathering new information by using their nose. Aside from using their snouts recreationally, dogs have had jobs for centuries revolving around their superior sense of smell and their noses continue to be utilized today. 

What is it that makes their sense of smell so good? 

Dogs boast approximately 300 million olfactory receptors (also called smell receptors) in their noses, compared to only six million in humans. Olfactory receptors detect scent molecules and relay the information to the brain, which then allows us to discern smell. This not only allows them to smell above and beyond what humans could dream of smelling, but it allows them to smell things far more intensely. 

A pup’s wet nose assists in this process, as the thin layer of mucus coating our pup’s noses assists them in absorbing scent chemicals. Turns out they aren’t only wet to create window art!  

Dogs Whoo Are Sniffing Out a Career 

The majority of the jobs that dog’s have been tasked with surround their incredible sense of smell. From police and military work, to search and rescue and service work, their sniffers are helping the good of society as well as individual cases. 

Scent-based service dogs are becoming more and more utilized, as more people begin to reap the benefits of having such an incredible partner. Here are some examples of scent based service dogs: 

Diabetic Alert Dogs

Diabetic alert dogs are able to detect high or low blood sugar, and will let their human partner know when they need to check their glucose levels. 

Cardiac Alert Dogs

Cardiac alert dogs will detect a change in their human partners blood pressure, which can alert them to a potential syncope episode often resulting in loss of consciousness. These dogs may also respond to the rise or drop in their owners heart rate. 

Allergen Detection Dogs

Allergen detection dogs can sniff out even trace amounts of an allergen in their owners food, preventing the owner from accidentally ingesting something that they are highly allergic to. People who are highly allergic to gluten or nuts are finding this type of service work to be incredibly helpful (and potentially lifesaving)! 

DIY Scent Work 

Sniffing is incredibly enriching to dogs because of their keen sense of smell. 20 minutes of sniffing is equivalent to an hour of walking for a dog, so don’t feel bad if you ever need to skip the neighborhood walk on busy days. Setting up a sniffy enrichment game is quick, easy, and just as fulfilling. It can be as simple as placing treats around the house for your pup to sniff out, or sprinkling their food onto a snuffle mat. Sundays pairs excellently with a snuffle mat as it is dense and no mess! Short, sniffy walks are also as equally beneficial to dogs as a long walk. Physical exercise is undoubtedly important, but many dogs need as much if not more mental stimulation to be content. 

If your dog is especially enthusiastic about using their nose and you are looking for an extracurricular activity to enjoy with your pup, look no further than the sport of scent work! Your pup doesn’t have to be a service dog or professional detection dog to be trained to sniff out a specific scent. Any dog can train and even compete in AKC Scent Work sports, where a dog is tasked with sniffing out different oils on a cotton swab in a variety of different situations. If you are interested in starting scent work with your dog, the American Kennel Club has all that you’ll need to know here

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