You see it everywhere — on street corners, in the pantry, among cornstalks in cornfields, in the snow, ruffling through the garbage, even in thin air. In all these places and so many more, we find dogs and their companion noses, searching, seeking, something. Dogs are always following their buzzing noses, and there is something alluring about their dedication to scent. They are so committed to whatever little surprise they may find at the end of their snouts’ journey (and according to them, hopefully the little surprise is either meat or another animal).
It’s not necessarily a shocker. And there’s a pretty straightforward reason for dogs’ compulsion for sniffing: biology. As opposed to humans, whose principle sense is that of sight, dogs rely far less on their weak vision (being red-green colorblind is only the beginning of their eye issues…) and far more on their keen sense of smell. And when I say keen, I mean KEEN. The area of the brain that registers smell is roughly 40 times larger in a dog than in a human. Humans have around 5 million scent detectors. Hounds, on the other hand, have 300 million.
The sense of smell is incredibly helpful for dogs, whose traditional tactics for self-sufficiency involve hunting. Humans can’t always SEE the squirrel hiding behind the group of flowers, but the dogs can always smell it. Dogs are indeed highly capable of discerning movement with their eyes, despite their poor vision. But this capability is relatively unhelpful, compared to the power of their noses, which are somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 times more sensitive to smell than the human nose.
Most people know that dogs are sniffers. But what people typically don’t know is the importance of the wet nose. Ever wonder why your dog’s nose is always wet? This too plays a useful role, for the humidity allows dogs to minutely detect the direction of the wind that delivers a scent. In other words, dogs not only smell very well, but they have the built-in capacity to know exactly where the smell is coming from. Read: hunters.
Imagine what the experience of extreme smell sensitivity must be like for a dog in a world complicated with thousands of smells. For humans, the majority of them go undetected. And thankfully so, considering how bewildering it must to take them all in at once. But dogs love to smell, so the problem is a good one. Dogs have an extreme attraction to certain smells, in particular, like meat, other dogs, other animals in general, excrement, humans, raw food, and road kill. Basically anything that was once or is still alive, and certainly anything strong enough that it makes even a human’s ears stick up. The prevalence of meat/animals/humans makes sense, though, as dogs have always first used their noses as a means to find food. Once again – hunters…
Dr. Bruce Fogle, D.V.M, Ph.D., notes, “Odors have a powerful influence on both the behavior and the physiology of the dog.” Smell is involved in so much of a dog’s experience, ranging from its everyday survival to the way it behaves (hence our dogs bark for some people at the door but not others, depending on whose scent they recognize). Their capacity for fragrance is inextricably bound to the rest of its life. For dogs, smell is not everything (but what would they be without loving parents?!), it’s darn close to being everything. The nose is essential, and every dog nose it.