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On August 26th, the nation rallied to celebrate National Dog Day. the Internet was abuzz with dog videos, memes and personal anecdotes about how much humans love their dogs. Today we continue the celebration by honoring one of these complex and loyal creatures. For the average individual, an annual celebration of everything dog may be enough, but for dog lovers like myself, a single day of celebration doesn’t cut it.  So to keep the fun going, HWF presents Dog Blogs— an entire week dedicated to (hu)man’s best friend.  Today’s blog is all about the nose, the sniffer, the schnoz found on America’s favorite pet.   

When I come home my dogs are usually the first to greet me. Before I even open the front door, I can hear the dancing of eight little paws tapping their way across the tile floor. As my key enters the lock, the tapping increases in speed and I know that on the other side of the threshold a tail-wagging joy is well underway. Though our dogs, Margot and Olive have different personalities, the way that they greet us is strikingly similar. First, they run around our legs to make sure that we are fully aware of their need for a big welcome, then they bestow a few wet kisses onto the closest available body part, and finally, they sniff us from toe to crotch. If they had it their way, I imagine that they would sniff us toe-to-head, but their size usually prevents them from getting that far.  Their sniffing is scrupulous, almost devout.  In a matter of seconds, they cover as much space as possible and when they get to a scent they find particularly intriguing, they allow their noses to rest in that space and inhale deeply.

In the approximate two minutes that my partner and I dedicate to greeting Margot and Olive, they can read volumes about our day. Dogs have scent-sational sniffers that can isolate a single scent among a cloud of other smells.  This ability to isolate smells informs your dog about where you have been, what you’ve eaten for lunch, and whether or not you’ve switched to a new laundry detergent.

How does it work? A dog’s nose functions quite differently from that of a human. When we inhale, we smell and breathe through the same airways. When dogs inhale, a fold of tissue immediately inside their nostrils helps to separate respiration (breath) from olfaction (scent). As if that wasn’t enough of an advantage, dogs also have 50-times the number of olfactory receptors as humans do— 300 million receptors compared to about six million— and the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is approximately 40 times greater than ours. There are even some odors that dogs can detect in parts per trillion. In her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, explains that while humans might be able to notice when someone adds a teaspoon of sugar to our coffee, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water!

Some scientists have posited that dogs know your scent on a cellular level. Science has already shown that dogs can read facial expression and body language to interpret the range of human emotions, but until recently, little research was conducted to determine whether dogs can smell our feelings. In 2017, neurobiologist Biagio D’Aniello of the University of Naples “Federico II”, conducted an experiment to see whether dogs had the ability to distinguish emotions on scent alone. The study showed that canines have the ability to smell the hormonal variations that happen when your emotions change.

The science behind the scent-sational sniffing powers of canines has been difficult to define (after all, a dog cannot tell you how well it can smell) but each year scientists are learning more about how canine senses work.  Today, researchers and trainers are joining forces to work with specially trained dogs and test their limits of olfaction. Scent working dogs are used to aid search and rescue efforts and have been specially trained to sniff things like cadavers, bombs, drugs, and even an oncoming diabetic attack!

To learn more about the science of dogs, visit the California Science Center’s exhibit— Dogs: A Science Tale, coming to Los Angeles on March 16th, 2019. This fantastic exhibit will feature everything from interactive displays that allow you to experience what it would be like to see, hear, and smell like a dog to a showcase on working dogs around the world. It’s guaranteed to be a Doggone good time! For more information visit their website.

Photo from Piotr Grzywocz on Wikimedia Commons

The Havasi Wilderness Foundation works to create an understanding of the need for environmental education and awareness among world citizens. It is our job to help preserve and protect our planet and all those who live here. If you would like to help support our work, please make a donation to us today.

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