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  • Writer's pictureMeileen Yee

Just How Powerful Is Your Dog's Sense of Smell?

The Dominant Sense

As humans, we take in the world mostly through our sense of sight, but dogs take in the world through their sense of smell. According to researchers, a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours. James Walker, one of the people who came up with the estimate, illustrates what that would look like, comparing it to sight: "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."

How It Works

Because our noses are so weak compared to dogs', it's hard for us to fathom how they can take in so much information through their sense of smell. If you're wondering how it works, the short answer is biology. Dogs are built to inhale more air particles and be able to process them better. Dogs have about 300 million cells in their epithelium (nasal tissue) while humans have about 5 million. Additionally, the part of their brain that analyzes smells is about 40 times bigger than ours.

When we inhale through our noses, our sense of smell and breathing go through the same airway in our nose. When dogs inhale, their smell and breathing functions are separated by a fold of tissue in their nostrils. While the air that we smell enters and exits with our breath, 12% of the air that dogs inhale goes to the back of the nose, where molecules are then sent to the brain to the analyzed.

The Significance

A dog's sense of smell is an incredibly powerful tool. Not only can they sniff out what is presently around them, but they can also tell what had been there in the past. While you might be seeing trees and an empty park on a walk, your dog might be "seeing" dogs and people that were there earlier that day. The strength of a dog’s nose has allowed us to search for and find all sorts of things, from disease to missing people

Dogs love sniffing out the world and exploring through their noses. According to the authors of “Olfaction: An Overlooked Sensory Modality in Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare,” odor impacts a dog’s behavior and wellbeing. So the next time you’re on a walk, allow your dog to sniff out their surroundings and to literally stop and smell the roses.


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