Fun facts about a dog's nose:
--Depending on breed, dogs have around 300 million olfactory sensors, which allows them to process smells 40 times greater than humans.
--Dogs' nostrils work much better than humans. Dogs can use and move each nostril independently! Human nostrils function together. This helps dogs tell which direction the smell is coming from. The shape of the nostril allows dogs to smell when they exhale as well as inhale.
--Dogs also have an organ that humans do not, called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson's organ. This allows dogs to smell pheromones which are used to distinguish different animal species and determine mating readiness.
Here are a few interesting links for you!
How do these fun facts apply to daily life with our dogs?
Imagine walking into a candle store and each inhale you smell a new scent, often overwhelming our senses. Dogs experience this overwhelming smell each and every time they step outdoors. We can use their amazing sense of smell to our advantage in so many ways by teaching them to detect smells that mean something to us. (medical needs, missing people, chemicals, etc.) But doesn't it also make sense that we allow dogs to use their sense of smell the way nature intended?
Even if you don't train your dog to distinguish specific scents, using their nose has a ton of benefits for your dog. The act of sniffing their environment is a huge stress reliever helping to relax and calm your dog. Sniffing in a new environment is the #1 way a dog processes that environment to determine what is in that environment; people, animals, food, etc. This helps to determine if an environment is safe or hazardous, exciting or boring, unusual or normal.
Not only can dogs remember the people in their lives by scent, but they can also smell fear, anxiety, and sadness. This helps dogs to determine if a stranger is friendly or not. Yes, people stink! That doesn't mean that all dogs are born recognizing what fear smells like. They learn that based on their previous experiences. That's why some dogs have a fear reaction to most people while other dogs think most people are friendly. Dogs save smells to long term memory much better then other senses such as sight or sound. It's often said that dogs see with their noses simply because smelling is their strongest ability.
Many wild animals and dogs that live out in the open typically chose to avoid environments that have potentially scary things such as prey animals. But when we take these animals out of the wild and ask them to live in the people world such as we have with domesticated pets, we often prevent them from exploring the environment freely. Dogs that have a wonderful life with their person still typically go in environments that people chose, on leash/off leash, fenced in yards, neighborhoods...people control these choices, not our dogs. This means we often (accidentally) take away their freedom to choose whether they can be in an environment or not. If they are on a leash, they can't really leave the area if they perceive danger.
Our dog's may have learned from previous experience to avoid skunks or may have never seen a skunk so they may not understand the hazard involved. Azul has never come across a skunk in the wild, so it's hard telling what he might do. Cam on the other hand ate a baby skunk when he was younger and I swear Cam burped skunk scent for a month! While that may be a funny story, it definitely taught Cam that skunks should not be messed with. Cam has also learned that bears are scary and so I can tell by Cam's body language when a bear is nearby. Unfortunately Cam has also learned that strangers, especially men are scary and even more so if they reach to pet him. We can't always control what our dogs find scary or perceive as a threatening and changing their mind becomes even more challenging.
However as dog owners, we have a responsibility to our dogs to pay attention to their body language, helping them to put more distance and space between us and the things they find scary.
That means it's up to us people to help our dogs learn what is safe in the environments we want our dogs to be in. This is especially true for Service Dogs that have to learn to feel safe in so many more environments to support their handler. We can help our dogs feel safe in new environments by allowing them to explore and process the environments we want them to enjoy.
This is why sniff-a-bouts are so important to me as a dog owner, dog lover, and dog trainer! I have tons of blogposts about why & how to take sniff-a-bouts with your dog which can easily be found using the search feature in the web version of this site. And I make sure all my clients understand and learn to add sniff-a-bouts to they dog training. Every group class I teach starts and ends with a sniff-a-bout! I even have a YouTube playlist for sniff-a-bout videos!
I will have more fun games that involve teaching your dog how to use their nose to distinguish scents that are relevant to their daily life in my next blog! So stayed to tune to my June theme: The NOSE Knows!