How Strong is a Dog’s Nose?

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
The nose knows – especially if you’re talking about a dog’s sniffer. But just how strong is a dog’s nose? Let’s find out.

Everyone knows that a dog’s sense of smell is stronger than a human’s, but have you ever wondered just how strong your dog’s nose really is? Dogs are used to sniff out everything from drugs and bombs to wild animals and lost persons. Keep reading to learn more about your dog’s sense of smell.

How Do Dogs Recognize Smells?

If you walked into a fish market and took a whiff, you would probably recognize the smell lingering in the air as fishy. You may not be able to pick out the individual fish, but your brain categorizes the similar smells into one group. New research reveals that your dog’s nose does the same thing.

Related: How to Treat a Dog’s Dry Nose

In this study, researchers separated the dogs into two groups and then trained them to respond to 40 different scents, half of which were accelerant-based. The smells were grouped into categories and the dogs trained to exhibit a behavioral response when they recognized a smell in a particular category. For example, some dogs were trained to sit when they recognized the smell. They were also trained to withhold the behavioral response for smells outside that category.

The results of the study showed that the dogs were able to recognize smells in different categories. Furthermore, they were able to place completely unknown smells in the right category and they were able to remember those smells 6 weeks later.

Just How Strong is Your Dog’s Nose?

Not only can dogs correctly group unfamiliar smells into categories, but they can pick up on smells much better than you can. A dog’s nose contains 220 million olfactory receptors compared to your own measly 5 million. Not only can your dog detect faint odors, but they can pick up scents at surprisingly long distances. His nostrils even operate independently, allowing him to do more than just pick up the scent – he can also get a sense of where it’s coming from.

Related: Do You ‘Nose’ Your Dog Breed Nose?

The mechanism through which your dog smells is very complex. Your dog actually has two air passages – one for breathing and one for smelling. As your dog inhales, the air coming in is separated by a flap and 12% of it is directed into a special smelling chamber. This area is filled with hundreds of tiny compartments that sift through the odor molecules, breaking down the air itself to detect even the slightest traces of odor. In contrast, the human nose detects smell through a small region in the nasal cavity – as the air passes over this area, we only have a second to recognize the odor.

All dogs have a stronger sense of smell than a human, but there are some breeds that are particularly known for their sense of smell. Coonhounds, English Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, German Shepherds, and Beagles are a few of the breeds with the best noses. It is no coincidence that the breeds with the best noses are often the breeds used for hunting.

You already know that your dog is amazing but learning just how strong his nose actually is may shed some new light. If you’re looking for a few ways to interact with your dog, try playing some scenting games to see just how strong his nose really is!

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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