2045 S Schuyler Avenue

Kankakee, IL 60901 US

815-933-8831

The Incredible Sense of Smell in the Dog

Image of a dog smelling the air.

There are many ways in which people and dogs are similar, but an area in which dogs are much superior is in their olfactory ability, or their sense of smell. Dogs can smell 100,000 times better than humans. In tests, dogs have been able to detect a chemical in a solution diluted to 1 to 2 parts per trillion. The human brain has a large area devoted to vision, while dogs have a large portion dedicated to olfaction, in fact, 40% more of a dog's brain than a human's is committed to smell. The average person has 5 million smell receptors, while the average dog, depending on breed, has 125 to 250 million smell receptors. The Bloodhound has an incredible 300 million smell receptors! Dogs can smell things up to 40 feet underground. Dogs can even smell human fingerprints that are a week old!

Part of the reason dogs have an excellent sense of smell is the moist leathery surface of the nose determines the direction of air currents. Also sniffing brings air with scents directly into the nostrils and then onto the moist surfaces inside the nasal cavity which catches the molecules so the dog's internal receptors can decode them. It is believed that even long ear flaps can help their sense of smell by stirring up odors close to the ground.
People have taken advantage of this incredible sense of smell and trained dogs to detect certain odors. One of the more unusual objects that dogs have been trained to find is whale feces.

Whale researchers for years have been stymied by their inability to test whales in the wild. It was then discovered that whale poop could give them information on diet, genetics, hormone status, level of toxins, etc. But how to find enough whale feces to get significant findings? Whale feces floats for only about 30 minutes. One research group found only five samples in two weeks by searching on their own. Then Tucker and Fargo came into their lives. Tucker is a Labrador mix -breed dog who searches for Orca whale feces in Puget Sound, and Fargo is a Rottweiler who finds right whale poop in the North Atlantic.

With the dogs on board, the research teams have found as many as 12 samples a day. At first their success rate was less, only because the researchers underestimated the distance at which the dog could detect the odor. With time the researchers learned that when the dog signaled , they should point the boat in the direction of the dog's nose and keep going until they found the feces; this has been as far as 1.2 miles. As one researcher said," The lowest-tech method turns out to be the most effective." Findings from these studies show that the orcas have had a drop in thyroid hormone; the researchers attribute this to a poor food supply. This could explain why orcas had a 20% decline in population in the last decade in Puget Sound.

The Atlantic study has not found the reason for the poor reproduction of the right whale since a hunting ban went into effect 70 years ago. From a low of 100 whales, the population is now only about 300, while 100,000 used to swim those waters. Research continues as long as the dogs keep finding samples!
Another amazing example of dogs detecting unusual things is the study that showed that dogs can identify people with cancer by smelling the person's breath or urine. The person's breath was used to find lung and breast cancer; urine was used to detect bladder or prostate cancer. The dogs were accurate 99% of the time for lung cancer, and 88% of the time for breast cancer! This is equal or better than high tech techniques such as scans. This study was done with only two to three weeks training using pet dogs and the only previous preparation was basic puppy training.
For centuries dogs have helped people with hunting, herding, and protection. These examples clearly show that dogs are capable of much more. Only our imaginations may limit what dogs might do in the future.

Your First Visit is FREE

Sign up now

Location

Testimonial

Read What Our Clients Say

  • "We love Dr Joe and his staff! Kayla and Emily have wonderful personalities and treat us and our dogs like family."
    Michelle N Ben K.

Featured Articles

Read about interesting topics

  • What to do when your pet gets lost?

    Has your pet wriggled their way through the fence or dashed out the front door? When searching for your lost pet, make sure you include these steps in your hunt. ...

    Read More
  • Flea and Tick Season

    Want to protect your pet from fleas and ticks? These tips can help. ...

    Read More
  • Summer Grooming Tips

    Want to keep your pet cool and comfortable this summer? A few changes to your normal grooming routine can help. ...

    Read More
  • What to Do If Your Pet is Stung

    Don't get us wrong, we love the bees! But we don't love when our pets get stung. Follow our tips to treat and prevent bee stings on your furry best friend. ...

    Read More
  • Tips for Traveling With Your Pet

    Do you dread hitting the road with your pet? These tips may make the trip more comfortable and enjoyable for you both. ...

    Read More
  • 6 Questions to Ask At Your Senior Pet's Next Check Up

    Want to keep your senior pet healthy and happy? Ask these six questions at your pet's next check up. ...

    Read More
  • Why the Controversy About Pet Vaccinations?

    As with anything, pet vaccinations can be too much of a good thing. Similar to parents who are learning more about vaccinations for children, veterinarians and pet owners alike are beginning to question some of the standard wisdom when it comes to protecting pets. There are certain fatal diseases against ...

    Read More
  • Pet Clothes: A Fashion Statement or a Necessity?

    There is nothing cuter than a pet in a colorful sweater, but do our furry friends really need to wear clothing? Although clothing is not a necessity for every pet, some animals benefit from a little extra protection during cold or damp days. Others enjoy wearing festive clothing during holidays or other ...

    Read More
  • Introducing a New Pet to Your Current Ones

    Pet Proofing Your Home Introducing your new pet to your current one is only a single part of the equation relating to taking a new pet home. You also have to make sure your new pet is comfortable in your home, which is a foreign environment to the animal. Like humans, animals can experience high levels ...

    Read More
  • Put Some Teeth Into Your Pet’s Dental Care

    According to the American Animal Hospital Association, nearly two-thirds of pets suffer from dental problems because their owners do not provide dental care for them. Imagine what would happen to your own teeth if they were never brushed or examined by a dentist. The same thing can happen with your pet’s ...

    Read More

Newsletter Signup

Sign up for more articles