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How Does your Dog’s Sense of Smell Impact Behavior?

Author: Greg Raub | Date: September 19, 2013

I started my last blog with a story about a client asking me why his younger dog could not seem to recognize his older dog when the older dog was out in the backyard. The blog was focused (no pun intended) on how well dogs see. But it just as easily could have focused on their sense of smell. That’s because dogs actually use their sense of smell more than sight to explore and gather information. In fact, one reason that younger dog couldn’t recognize his older sibling may have been because he could not smell the other dog.

Think about it. When your dog is checking out another dog, does he do a visual exam? Of course not, he uses his nose. Because smell is such an important sense, it can be helpful to us humans to understand how Fido’s sense of smell differs from ours… and how our dogs use their sense of smell.

The biggest sensory difference between dogs and humans is the sense of smell.

Consider:

  • Dogs have 220 million scent receptors (with some variation by breed).  We humans have only 5 million.
  • The olfactory lobe of a dog’s brain (that part of the brain that “smells,”) is four times the size of ours.
  • Dogs can perceive some odors 50 to 100 times better than us – even when the source of the odor is right under our nose.

So, what sorts of behaviors might be based in this superior sense of smell?

Urinating/Marking

Some people think a dog marks as a sign of dominance. But could it be that by marking a dog is simply leaving some information for other dogs that pass that way? There is some research to support that idea.

Poor Eating Habits

We often think of cats as being finicky eaters. But many dogs are, too. Could it be that those finicky dogs just don’t like the smell of their food?  Perhaps a change in food would improve eating habits (this actually happened with my dog).

Reactivity

For dogs that are reactive toward other dogs, one solution that has been investigated is scent transfer – where one dog’s scent is transferred to an object (e.g., the dog is rubbed with a towel) and the reactive dog is then allowed to check out the object (and gather lots of information) before being introduced to the dog.

These are just a few examples of how sense of smell can impact – and be used in – behavior training.

Have you noticed any behaviors your dog exhibits that can be traced to his superior sense of smell?

Here’s one example from my dog. In the summer when the windows are open, my dog will periodically “go crazy.”  He barks.  He whines.  He runs through the house.  Bad behavior?  Not necessarily… he simply smells something (possum? raccoon?) outside.

 

 

 


I feel like I am a much better dog owner now that I am educated.

Michelle N. | View Client Testimonials

 

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