Updated: Aug 17, 2022
Ever wonder what your dog is smelling when they stick their nose into the air and begin sniffing? Maybe to you, you smell dinner cooking, a candle burning or maybe to you there's not a smell in the air at all making you confused to what they sense. The human nose has approximately six million olfactory, a smell or odorant, receptors whereas a dog's is 40 times greater than that. Over the past three of years, Louie has helped me better understand what his snoot can really do.
A dog's sense of smell in a nutshell
A dog's snoot can actually smell as far as a 12-mile radius, 40 feet underground and about 30 meters under water. They are able so smell predators, mates, food, humans, as well as communicate with each other. This great use of their nose has allowed them to evolve over the years.
Not only can they smell at such great distance but the world outside changes its smells every single moment of the day and most changes are not detectable by our noses. When you're outside, there hundreds of things we smell like grass, flowers, maybe even the chlorine in the pool, just think about the way it smells when it rains for a moment. When your dog is outside, they can smell all that plus humans, other animals, other dogs. They can tell by the smell if they're male or female, fixed or in heat, friendly or not. They use their "words" sometimes to confirm their friendliness or try to communicate to different species, but the majority of the time, dogs greet each other through their noses. You know, the ever popular "butt sniff".
Dogs are trained to be your companion, protection, as well as your service animal. What makes them capable of such talent? When you're not feeling well, scared, nervous or in many cases medically wrong, your furry friend can sense it through the smells your body puts off. Your heart begins to beat faster, your palms sweat, your stomach churns and all these feelings are turned into a scent or sound that your dog reads. They may run from you, cuddle you, lick your face to help calm you down or make you feel better, even run and get you help if needed.
Each nostril can smell separately from the other, giving your pup the ability to smell multiple things at any one time. Their nostrils also work a little bit differently than ours since they can actually breathe in and out at the same time, in one out the other simultaneously. With the evolution of a dog's sense of smell, dogs are able to adjust to their environment in a rather quick compacity. Dogs smell dinner, mates, predators and even smell what time of day it is, all out of different nostrils while they're breathing.
If it's a completely new smell to them, you might even notice them "chatter" their mouths to help them remember it for later. Why would they "taste it" you might be wondering. When a dog smells something different or enjoyable, they "store" it in their memory by bringing the odor to the roof of its mouth where their scent organ is located. Nothing to be alarmed about, they are just getting a better sense of the smell and storing it away like a picture in your phone.
So how does knowing more about my dog's snoot help me?
We spend so much time training and domesticating our dogs that we forget their roots. These animals are wild and need to rely on their senses to survive and find their way home should anything happen that separates them from you.
Then next time that you go walking with your dog, let them sniff. Don't try to rush them back inside or walk quickly down the street. Let them stop to smell the roses so to speak. Walk to new places around your neighborhood, this will help them have identifiers for if they were to get lost. They will be able to remember some smells that can bring them closer to home. They might even be sensing a new animal in the area, such as when another dog mark's a spot. Your furry friend can tell if there might even be dangers in the area you're walking, giving them the fight or flight option to protect you from an unfriendly animal or human. Think of a dog's snoot as their way of mindreading.
When they are meeting new people, remember that they can smell them and their other animals from a distance. The "holding out the hand" to know they're friendly isn't necessary, so if it's not needed, don't do it, they can smell if they are friends or foes. They always say to trust a dog's instinct and that's because a dog can smell your motives, sense your vibes literally miles away.
When your visitors have other animals at home, dogs or cats, your fur baby can smell them from a distance from what's left on their clothing. Your dog will get close and sniffy when they are interested in what the other pets scent tells them. It could be that you have a female at home who is in heat or unaltered, you could have a sick pet at home that you don't even know yet or is contagious and they are now going to steer clear from you. The type of smell will determine how much they interact with your pant leg. Sometimes it's best not to react to them sniffing because they are just trying to "read the room" and know more about a person since they can't actually ask questions.
Understand that a wet or dry nose doesn't mean they are sick or well. Educate yourself on your breeds nose and nose issues. Some dogs have shorter snouts, so their noses tend to be more susceptible to allergies, causing a wet runny nose. Pay attention to you little fur friend, you're with them every day and can tell if something is off in their demeanor. If the water coming from their nose is thick, consult your vet, it could be a sign of allergies and you need to change something in your house, like your air freshener.
Learning from Louie...
I have only had two real dogs in my lifetime Stoney, a German Shepard, and Louie. And I don't know if I can even really say that I had Louie, he was his own dog with his own life. I will tell you that working with a feral dog has taught me a lot about how much we as humans push them to rely on us because we want them to and have worked for them to evolve into a "pet". We forget so many times that these animals were "trained" in the beginning to help us with food and survival, they weren't initially meant to be our companions.
Though not the popular opinion, if we were to train a dog to be self-sufficient, they wouldn't be in as much danger when they were lost. Dogs haven't survived as long as they have because of humans, quite the opposite really. If we continue to keep ourselves uneducated about what they are truly self-capable of, we are doing them a disservice.