Home E In The News E A Dog’s Extraordinary Sense Of Smell, And Scent Likes And Dislike

A Dog’s Extraordinary Sense Of Smell, And Scent Likes And Dislike

By Belinda Cai

We humans perceive the world around us mostly with our eyes (and other senses, especially for those who are vision-impaired). Dogs, on the other hand, perceive the world almost solely through their remarkable, fine-tuned sense of smell. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), humans have five million scent receptors in their nose compared with up to 300 million found in dogs like German Shepherds. 

Dogs are often used as professional scent detectors for people who go missing, bomb detection, and even to sniff out diseases like cancer, malaria and Parkinson’s. This now extends to COVID, as research teams around the globe are conducting trials to see if dogs can sniff out the virus before a person even has symptoms (wow!). Read more about this from Business Insider

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Dogs are often used as professional scent detectors for people who go missing, bomb detection, and even to sniff out diseases like cancer, malaria and Parkinson’s. This now extends to COVID, as research teams around the globe are conducting trials to see if dogs can sniff out the virus before a person even has symptoms (wow!).

“If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well,” says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, in this PBS article

The entire way we inhale and smell is different from a dog’s way of smelling. They’re two different worlds. “We found that when airflow enters the [dog’s] nose, it splits into two different flow paths — one for olfaction and one for respiration,” says Brent Craven, a bioengineer at Pennsylvania State University.

On top of all of that, dogs possess another olfactory chamber called Jacobson’s organ (or, scientifically, the vomeronasal organ). It’s located at the nasal cavity’s base and has two fluid-filled sacs. This allows dogs to smell and taste simultaneously. Puppies use it to locate their mother’s milk, and adult dogs use it when smelling animal pheromones (such as for mating), according to this Animal Planet article.

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An excerpt from VCA Animal Hospitals states:

While noses don’t actually speak, they do communicate. With a single sniff, noses interpret an entire story without words by using amines and acids emitted by dogs as the basis for chemical communication. The chemical aromas communicate what a dog likes to eat, and identify gender and mood. By simply smelling, a dog can determine if a new friend is male or female, happy or aggressive, healthy or ill. Dogs get a general idea about each other with a quick sniff, but get more detailed information by getting up close and personal.

Now that’s just amazing! A dog’s scent is truly her superpower. No wonder dogs sniff each other (and everything else in their vicinity) right away and all the time.

But what about common scents around the house or outdoors that dogs may be sensitive to? Or smells that can even be toxic? What are some relaxing, calming smells? Here are some scents to keep in mind for when your pup is nearby or in an enclosed space with you.

Smells dogs like:

So we know dogs like sniffing other dogs. But keep in mind: your dog’s all-time favorite scent is… YOU! Dogs love the smell of a familiar human, especially if it’s their owner. They also prefer the smell of familiar dogs over new ones. Read more about this on The Dodo. That aside, dogs can’t get enough of the smell of food, of course. Every dog owner knows that already. (We often have to hide food so they don’t dig their noses and teeth into it.)

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Your dog’s all-time favorite scent is… YOU!

Some calming scents are:
-lavender
-chamomile
-vanilla
-coconut
-valerian
-ginger
-bergamot

Putting a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser — try it really diluted at first, and without prolonged exposure — can be a positive experience for your dog. It can be a form of relaxing aromatherapy. These natural scents can also be found outdoors. Pay attention to how your dog responds to these scents. Another method is to put a few drops of these oils on a bandana and have your dog sniff it. If she reacts positively, tie it around her neck. You may wind up with a happy, calm pup. If she reacts negatively, make a note that it’s a scent to avoid around your dog. 

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Lavender is a nice, relaxing smell for dogs.

Smells that are toxic to dogs (or they dislike):

When your sense of smell is as keen as that of a dog’s, a little bit of a bad smell can be completely overwhelming. Anything with heavy chemicals, like cleaning products or perfume, are not safe to be used around a dog. Dogs should never be kept in small, enclosed spaces with unfamiliar scents.

Some toxic dog scents, or scents dogs dislike are:
citrus (all kinds!)
-chili pepper
-vinegar
-mothballs
-ammonia
-rubbing alcohol
-peppermint
-pine
-sweet birch
-tea tree
-garlic
-candles
-incense

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Dogs do not like strong scents, such as from a lit candle.

Avoid these scents and always use discretion when introducing new scents to your pup! Test out just a tiny bit and build up from there. Don’t leave your dog with a scent in a small space for a prolonged period of time. Consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about smells, as to whether they are safe or dangerous — and how much to expose your dog to.

With such an astonishing gift of scent, dogs’ noses should be respected and treated with the utmost love. 

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