"We all know that dogs are amazing, but we are going to explore the extraordinary power of a dogs nose."
We as humans tend to rely on sight as our main sense and only around 5% of our brain is dedicated to analysing smell. Compare that to 33% of a dogs brain and you can see how incredibly important scent is to a dog. Their ability to recognise a scent is so exceptional that they can detect a particular smell diluted in 1-2 parts per trillion, that's the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water !
Where we have 5 million olfactory scent receptors a dog has up to 300 million, so they are in a completely different league in the sniffing stakes! Things do vary a little between the breeds and some dogs are in the elite athlete group when it comes to ability of picking up and following a scent.
Top of the list would be the Bloodhound with 300 million scent glands and his whole being is designed for following a scent trail. Even his ears help waft and concentrate the smell directly into his nasal passages and skin folds in his face trap even more scent particles. Beagles and Bassets have approximately 225 million and the Dachshunds 125 million.
He lifts his head into the air and with a left and right twitch of the nose drinks in the scent of the pheasants that are in the field way ahead.
Gundogs have been bred for centuries to follow a scent of wounded game and retrieve it back to their owners
The dogs nose is formed by bones, muscles, soft tissue and a network of nerves which relay information to specific areas in the brain. The two nostrils, which are divided by bone and cartilage are moveable and can twitch and flare to allow maximum air into the upper area of the nose. Inside the dogs nose there is an elaborate labyrinth of thin bones called the turbinates which cover a large area for scent to be passed over.
It is important for the dog to have a wet nose which increases their ability to pick up on scent as it will be trapped in the thin layer of mucus, absorbing and holding the smell in place for longer. You will often see a dog lick their nose to help spread a thin layer of mucus and lubricate the nose canals. Although the dog appears to be sniffing with both nostrils, in fact each nostril is processing the scent slightly differently, analysing the huge amount of information it contains. Expired air is quickly removed via the side slits in the nostrils allowing uninterrupted smelling of the new scent to be drawn up into the centre of the nose to continue gaining information about the surroundings and what creatures have passed through that area.
When socialising and meeting dogs for the first time another area called the Vomeronasal organ or Jacobson organ is used to access lots of information about the pheromones of other dogs in their company and this information transmits directly to the brain and effects the emotions. They will be able to tell the sex of that dog and in particular if a male dog is entire, they can smell what a particular dog eats and if they are nervous, excitable or submissive. This organ is located in the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth and it can literally allow the dog to taste and smell the air at the same time. A male dog will hold their mouth open slightly to increase their scenting ability and if they are smelling the urine of a female you may see a chattering of teeth to direct the smell right into the area and analyse the odour thoroughly.
It is incredibly important that dogs are given the opportunity to fulfil the most highly developed of all their natural senses.
When dogs are given the freedom to wander in open spaces there is much more sniffing than walking going on. They zig zag back and fourth taking in the aromas and collecting the information of who has passed by ,including new, unfamiliar ones and the scent of their walking buddies that have been there earlier. Even when a dog is running, a sudden whiff of something interesting can bring on an emergency stop to go and investigate a single blade of grass and with male dogs a cock of the leg usually follows to claim the tiny patch as their own !
If you have ever seen a Spaniel work a hedge you will see just how driven and intense they find the process, it's like their life depended on it.
Some dogs, including the gundog and hound breeds have a very strong desire to follow a scent which can cause a problem for their owners. The natural longing is there in all dogs but over the centuries through selective breeding this trait has been used to the humans advantage from tracking lost people to retrieving a shot bird.
If it is not possible for your dog to enjoy the freedom of being off lead in a natural environment there are still many ways to fulfil their need to "scratch that itch" so to speak
Working on a long tracking line and a harness in an area of long grass or woodland, maybe hidding some treats or their favouite toy in tuffs of grass or fallen leaves. You can add a "find it" command so they are working with you to find an object. Or some dogs just love to mooch about, gently taking in all the sights and smells of the area. It is important to allow them the time to do this .
There are some excellent scenting and tracking groups setting up all over the country which are a great way to spend fun time with your dog and build a good bond as you work as a team to track and find certain objects.
Planning out a small area in your garden in which you can leave the grass a bit longer or create a training area for scent games is great if you have limited access to green places. This is also valuable stimulation for elderly dogs that are not up for walks but love to wander and have a good sniff around and will add enrichment to their life as well as keeping them mobile.