Dogs’ Sense of Smell

Monday, November 12, 2018 | 


A Word From Dr. Joyce Ashamalla


Humans depend on their vision to inform them about their surroundings whereas dogs rely on their sense of smell. Dogs collect a multitude of data through scents, and can recognize their humans instantly as we each have a unique scent. When dogs sniff each other, they can immediately identify whether the dog is male or female, happy or hostile, and determine the overall health of their new friend. If you have ever wondered about dogs’ sense of smell, read on to learn more about their powerful noses.

How Far Can a Dog Smell

Dogs can smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than a human. A dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose and around forty percent of a dog’s brain is dedicated to analyzing scents. Dogs can move their nostrils independently to determine the direction of an odor and they can detect extremely minute differences in odors.

One of the reasons dogs’ homing instincts are so strong is they use their own scent trail to find their way home. Many dogs can travel for miles following a scent trail but factors such as the weather, wind speed, and the height of the item the dog is trying to sniff out, will affect how far a dog can smell. So on a rainy day, it may be harder for a dog to detect a scent as compared to a sunny, clear day.

Training is also important in determining how far a dog can smell because training teaches dogs to memorize scents. Dogs use their vast scent memory to pick up trails, which why a well-trained hunting dog is much more adept at picking up tiny scent traces as compared to a puppy.  A dog’s scent memory also gives them the ability to identify a dog they haven’t sniffed in years.

Dogs with the Best Sense of Smell

All dogs tell us apart by our scent and they can even smell our fear, anxiety, sadness, and adrenaline. But some dog breeds have a more well-developed sense smell and humans have used breeds like these for many years for police work, hunting, and more. What makes certain breeds different is they have more olfactory receptors than others, and many have large heads, noses with large, open nostrils, and long ears. If you are looking for a dog with a better than average sense of smell, check out these breeds:

  • Bloodhound
  • Bassett Hound
  • Beagle
  • German Shepard
  • Labrador Retriever
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Pointer

Some dogs, on the other hand, have compromised airways that can affect their sense of smell. These breeds are known as flat faced or brachycephalic dogs, and you can learn more about them here.

No matter what type of dog you have, you can be sure that he uses his nose to understand his surroundings. So next time you are outside taking him for a walk, don’t rush him away from the tree or street sign he is intently sniffing.  He’s collecting information about the world around him.