Does Your Dog Nose It All?

February 27 2018

Is your dog a nose it all? Actually most dogs are. As humans, we rely the most on our sense of sight, whereas dogs depend most on their sense of smell.

According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), a dog's sense of smell is about 1,000 times keener than ours -- and many dog experts claim it is millions of times better. By comparison, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors whereas we have only 5 million). They can pick up a scent even when there are only a few molecules remaining. I can't even imagine what the world must smell like to dogs.

We were just outside and I watched as our neighbor's dog (Mini) was just lying there with his head raised and facing into the breeze. The very tip of his nose was twitching and he slightly moved his head back and forth "reading" the smells on the wind. Then he got up and looked in that direction, his nose really working the breeze. His body language indicted interest. A minute later a woman and her dog walked around the corner. Did Mini know they were coming? I would say yes.

After they went by, we went out to the sidewalk and Mini's head went down to the pavement. He "traced" their path backwards around the corner. There were a few places where he stopped and became engrossed in sniffing. I didn't stop him as it was interesting just to watch.

He sniffed back and forth and then followed a scent onto the grass. I have no idea if it was the same scent or another, but Mini was certainly intrigued. He went back and forth across the lawn a couple of times all the while with his nose an inch or less from the ground. Once or twice he'd raise his head, look around and then go right back to sniffing.

There was a clump of grass that was extremely interesting. He stood over it almost a minute "examining" each blade, his nose twitching and wiggling as he explored whatever scent was there. I got down on the ground and sniffed it too. It smelled like grass to me. I smelled another area just a little bit away and it smelled exactly the same to me, but not to Mini. He was definitely captivated by that one clump of grass.

Do you want to play really interesting nose games with your dog? Play hide and seek with a person, toy or treat. We taught our dog Max what "find" means. We did this by telling Max to "stay" letting him smell a treat, then putting the treat just around the corner. We "released" him and said "Find the treat". When he found it we made a big deal of "Good Find!" After a few times he knew what "find" meant.

Once he knew what "find" meant we started making it a little harder each time. Now we hide stuff in places he really has to work to find. We've even put a treat inside a ripped stuffed animal, inside a box, and under a table in a dark room. It is a good game to keep him mentally stimulated.

It's really fascinating to watch Max search for the item. He'll do a quick nose search of the room and then works his way around sniffing the air, poking his nose under things until he "catches" the scent. Once that happens he usually finds it pretty quickly.

We now even play "find the cookie" out in the yard and he's even getting pretty quick outside. We have a fairly big yard and I do have to encourage him but he really loves the game. Plus, he gets to eat the reward at the end.

This amazing ability to nose it all is why dogs can find lost people, drugs, bombs, detect insects, the source of fires and all sorts of things. Some dogs can follow scents which are days old.

This may be a part of the reason it can take some dogs, especially scent hounds like beagles, longer to learn how to walk nicely on leash. The scents can and will distract them. We had to teach Max to walk with his head up instead of with his nose to the ground. We let Max sniff, at times, but we decide when and where, he does not.

It's important to let dogs do dogs things but it's also important to teach them how to fit into our world. When you do both the results are twice as rewarding.

As Max would say, Smell ya later.

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