Karen B. London
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Dogs and Their Outstanding Noses
How has your dog amazed you?
Bugsy was no genius, but he had a great nose

It is well known that dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell. Nearly everyone who has lived with dogs has a story illustrating these astonishing olfactory abilities, and here is mine:

Our dog Bugsy (half black Lab, half handsome stranger) was not the cleverest of dogs, and we eventually learned to embrace the moments when he showed his lack of Einsteinian brain powers. One day on our farm, he suddenly began to sniff his own footsteps in the snow, backtracking for several hundred feet along his own path. I chuckled to myself about his silliness, and even said aloud (to no effect), “Those are your own footsteps, you nut.” Finally, he veered away from his own path and continued to track. Upon investigation, I realized that he was tracking a rabbit, and that he had first caught the trail in his own paw print. He had stepped onto a rabbit paw print hundreds of feet before, and yet there was enough scent to get his attention and for him to follow. It made me wonder how many other times I had erroneously identified his behavior as resulting from low IQ rather than existing in a different sensory universe.

My dog amazed me that day, and I’ve heard many tales of dogs saving the day by smelling lost children, gas leaks, intruders, injured pet cats and dangerously low blood sugar levels. How have the abilities of your dog’s nose astounded you?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Lisa | September 30 2009 |

I don't have a story that good, but I witness on a regular basis how sensitive and amazing my dog's noses and olfactory senses are.

For example, I was walking my two-year-old Shar Pei, Sophie this morning, and she slowed down and started sniffing. She circled and sniffed a large area of my neighbour's lawn for about five full minutes, gradually zooming in on the scent that had stopped her. It was a small spot on the grass about eight feet from where we were walking on the pavement, but somehow she had detected it.

During the winter, my beagle mix, Faith, has amazed me by her powers to detect mice and voles beneath six inches of frozen snow. She stops, sniffs the snow and starts digging. Sure enough, a few minutes and several inches of snow later, a bedraggled poor little mouse pokes his bewildered little face out of the hole.

Faith also knows if there is a beef marrow bone in the room. It can be somewhere out of reach, out of sight, but she will sit at the spot where it is and stare in its general direction until I give her the bone.

Imagine being so sensitive that you can smell things that are several feet away!

I've often thought that the reason dogs are not as smart as humans is because their brains have to process about 100 times more sensory information than we do, plus their noses are much closer to the ground. Given the smells (and sounds) flooding their brains, it's amazing that they are as social, smart and affectionate as they have shown themselves to be.

It would drive me nuts, to be walking along the sidewalk and be able to smell everything on the grass, even if it's ten feet away!

Submitted by Jenny H | January 30 2010 |

How have the abilities of your dog’s nose astounded you?

We used to take our dogs to the beach and throw balls for them to retrieve -- sometimes into the shallow surf.

One day when my German Shepherd couldn't see the ball she began 'scenting' for it -- IN the surf!! At first I thought she was being silly, but then realised when I watched her closely that she could not only scent the ball in the water, but know whether the ball was go in or out on the surf -- and make adjustment for rips :-)

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