Everyone knows dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but how much better is it than ours exactly? Ever have difficulty getting your dog to move from a particular spot on a walk because they want to keep sniffing? Per Animal Planet this is because “a dog’s sense of smell is about 1,000 times keener than that of their two-legged companions — and many dog experts claim it’s millions of times better.” When dogs sniffs at different smells, their nostrils can move separate from one another to help locate where a scene is coming from. The scent goes into their nasal cavity, which is home to more than 220 million olfactory receptors that process the smell. This is compared to the 5 million olfactory receptors that humans have – it’s no wonder dogs can pick up scents we can’t smell!
Dogs’ superior sense of smell is because their noses are much different than ours. PBS explains, “when we inhale, we smell and breathe through the same airways within our nose. When dogs inhale, a fold of tissue just inside their nostril helps to separate these two functions…When we exhale through our nose, we send the spent air out the way it came in, forcing out any incoming odors. When dogs exhale, the spent air exits through the slits in the sides of their noses. The manner in which the exhaled air swirls out actually helps usher new odors into the dog’s nose.” This means dogs are constantly smelling while taking in new scents.
Another reason why canines have such an amazing sense of smell, is because they have an organ called Jacobson’s organ that humans don’t possess. According to an article by the U.S. Fire Administration, “this organ essentially allows the dog to ‘taste’ a smell, thus strengthening its ability to detect odors. Canines detect odors directly from the source or from residual scents, odors which persist in an area after the original source is no longer present.”
So what does all this scientific talk actually mean? For example, the New York Times featured a dog in 2013 named Abbey, a rescued Labrador Retriever, who “during her three-year tenure at Miami International Airport has been responsible for more than 155 seizures of smuggled cocaine and heroin, worth $25 million on the street.” Dogs are being used more and more for their noses – assisting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), aiding soldiers during war and providing medical warnings to people with certain health issues such as diabetes or epilepsy.
Written for Blum Animal Hospital by Jackie Sheppard.