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Understanding how the five senses work in your dog

Updated on February 12, 2013
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Michelle is a professional freelance writer who loves music, poetry, pets, and the arts. She is a techno-geek as well.

A dog smelling
A dog smelling | Source

An amazing video on deaf dogs

The five senses. They are the most important,yet seemingly trivial parts of our existence which we take too often for granted. If we stop to think about the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, we will not be able to imagine our lives without them.

As they are to us, the 5 senses are vital to a dog’s survival. This writer will go in to a little detail about how they work in our canine friends and hopefully clear up some misconceptions. I will explain how a dog’s 5 senses can be used to train them and be of help to us too.

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The 5 senses in our dogs

Yes, these 5 senses certainly play major roles in the lives of our dogs. One or two of them, though, do have a greater impact on their lives than others. Having said that, it is not hard to figure out what they would be!

The sense of smell in our dogs

The sense of smell would,by far, play the most important role in the lives of our dogs. We cannot even come close to our dogs’ ability to smell things. A dog has about 40,000 olfactory receptors, giving him a sense of smell 100,000 times more powerful than a human’s. Though the design of a dog’s snout varies from breed to breed, they all have the same great sniffing power.

A dog’s olfactory tube (the part of the brain responsible for detecting scent messages) is substantially larger than that of a human’s. They have an organ within their nose called the vomeronasal organ that is used to detect chemical signals from animals and people. This is why you might find your dog greeting another by smelling it. It also explains why a dog can be entranced by a singular spot of grass for 10 minutes!

Fun fact: the bloodhound has 3 times more scent receptors than any other dog breed. The unique physical design of the nose makes it a good tracker or sniffer dog.

The sense of hearing and our dogs

We are all too familiar with our canine friends barking like crazy in the middle of the night. He may be detecting a noise that you cannot hear, like a burglar breaking in via your basement window.

The sense of hearing is another dominating sense in our canines. Dogs can hear at 4 times the distance a human can. Putting it a little musically, they can hear at 2 higher octaves than humans, listening mainly in the ultrasound range, at a frequency of about 60 000 hertz. They are able to localize sounds with more facility than humans.

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The sense of touch in our dogs

Though not as developed as the other two senses, a dog’s sense of touch is also very well-honeed, though less so than a human’s. Puppies, though born blind, are compensated with sensory receptors on their faces that help them find mama. Likeall social animals, dogs use touch to bond and get to know others better.

While the most sensitive part of the human body are the fingertips, it would be the muzzle for the dog. Understanding how the sense of touch works in training a dog will be explained later.

The sense of taste

A dog’s sense of taste is arguably less developed than a human’s. Most owners will notice that dogs eat just about anything (yes, some are still choosy). While a human has about 9000 taste detectors in his tongue, a dog has about 2000. Considered neophilic,many dogs are not fussy and would be inclined to try new tastes.

Dogs can differentiate between the salty, sour, spicy and bitter tastes in the same way we can. Some dogs really enjoy strong flavors!

The sense of sight

By far the least developed of a dog’s five senses, dogs, unlike what is popularly believed, can distinguish between a few colors, though more limited in number that we can.

The lessened range of color vision in dogs has its purpose. Primarily hunters, dogs survived in the wild or used to help owners trap vermin, possibly at night. The lack of colors enhance a dog’s night vision. Scientists have found that a dog’s vision sharpens greatly at night with fewer colors.

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How to use the 5 senses to train your dog

A dog’s senses can be used to guide him into behaving in an appropriate manner, or even to help us. Each of them can be a useful teaching tool!

Using a dog’s sense of sight

A dog’s sense of sight can be used to distract him and guide him into the right behavior. The things that a dog sees can be used to distract him when he is about to engage in anything that might be a little out of line.

Take for example, meeting a stranger on a walk. Social animals, some dogs might be rather jumpy and want to greet him viz a little pounce (yes, dogs do what they doggy do).

Making use of, say, a light nearby, the dog can be guided away from frightening that stranger with a jump.

Using a dog’s sense of touch

One of my favorite ways to use touch to train a dog is in using your legs to indicate undesirable behavior.

When on a walk, the legs can be used to alert a dog when he is being unruly or doing anything inappropriate. Touch the legs to a dog’s sides or rear end. This should tell him that he is doing something not quite right and correct the behavior straight away.

Sometimes, a dog might greet you a little too enthusiastically when you come home. Again, practicing a little calm assertiveness, use your legs to gently touch the dog to get him or her to calm down.

Using a dog’s sense of smell

A dog’s sense of smell can be used to teach him to go to the right places for the right things.

An owner can use the sense of smell to teach a dog to come to you. Have some treats on you and a dog will usually come right on over to look for them. Gradually get him to associate it with the word “come.”

Many owners, of course, use a dog’s sense of smell to house break a puppy. Use his own scent to guide him to the right place to use the bathroom. Bring him to the spot frequently where he should go to the bathroom and let him recognize that this is the place for him to ease himself.

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Using the sense of taste

Every time we extend a treat, we can utilize our dog's sense of taste to teach him. It works, together with his sense of smell, to get him to come to you at the right time.

Bear in mind that we do not want to be over treating our dog. Use the smell of the treat on your fingertips to help him slowly associate him with the desired action.

Using a dog’s sense of hearing

Dogs. with their incredible sense of hearing, are easily distracted by the great number of sounds they hear around them.

Using a clicker or snapping your fingers can help draw the dog’s attention to what to do next, whether it is to sit, come or heel. It serves as a reminder to adopt appropriate behaviors.

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How a dog’s senses can help us

A dog’s sense of hearing can be used to help us in our daily lives, and our loyal canine friends are ever ready to provide the assistance we need.

How a dog’s sense of smell can help us

As we have already mentioned, smell can help you housebreak a dog. It can help guide the dogs to appropriate behaviors as well.

Aside from that, dogs have been used in areas of rather difficult work. Cadaver dogs detect the scent of humans buried under rubble. Fire dogs are used to detect the presence of humans at the scenes of fires and the dog on border patrol sniffs out illegal drugs.

My favorite is how some highly trained dogs are used to detect cancer. Some dogs are able to differentiate between two cells and indicate which is cancerous. They are used quite often in areas of cancer research.

How a dog’s sense of hearing serves us

As mentioned before, with 3 times our hearing capacity, a dog can hear what we cannot. It can hear someone walking about the house at night and serve as a watch dog.

I have not yet repaired my doorbell nor need to, because my dog Cloudy will always come to me when someone is at the door. Many times, she has heard our footsteps-all the way from across the park!

Conclusion

Indeed, a dog’s senses serve it, and us, in many ways. Use them to guide him into knowing what to do, and hence form a better relationship with you.

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    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      An explanation of a canine's 5 senses and how they can be used to train your dog.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      Great job on this ..and well explained! I didn't know you lived in Singapore. My son and his wife lived there for 4 years.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      Great job on this ..and well explained! I didn't know you lived in Singapore. My son and his wife lived there for 4 years.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Wonder job on this one and I read with Emma this morning who has dogs on the brain right now!! Have of course voted and shared, too!!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful hub Michelle;I am voting up,across and sharing all around.

      Have a wonderful weekend.

      Eddy.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      My Schnauzer, Baby lets me know if anyone approaches our yard. They don't even have to knock on the door! She will bark loudly. When we go on a walk, her nose is constantly on the ground. I see other people walking their dog and their head is up, but not my dog. A dog's hearing amazes me. I forgot now how many muscles are in a dog's ears, but there are quite a few.

      I enjoyed this Hub very much. Voted UP, and will share, Pin and Tweet.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      That was really very helpful. I learned some things in this hub and I'll share them with Bev so we can understand our dogs better. Great job.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I enjoyed your article immensely. It's so much fun to observe my dog when we're outdoors. She walks in a zig-zag pattern with her nose to the ground, checking out every place a squirrel has been. A dog's sense of smell is truly amazing. And she will wake in the middle of the night and bark if a neighbor's cat jumps the fence into our yard. She's a schnauzer with floppy ears, and when I'm talking to her she holds her ears up and they move forward and backward. I suppose that lets her take in my words better, but it's always been fascinating to watch.

      Dogs rock!

      Voted Up++

      Jaye

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Interesting article! Voted up and interesting!

      I a more a cat person ; I was attacked by two nasty dogs as a kid so I am careful with dogs now.

      I admire working dogs who can help so many people! Wit cats....we can just dream of them helping...but they purr and it might comfort some people:-)

      I tried to educate my two year old cat not to jump on some pieces of furniture using some essential oil... and it worked....almost completely!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

      Gosh, Michelle this was such an interesting hub and downright intelligent too.

      My friend just got a pet (dog) gotta fwd this to her and help her save bucks by avoiding her pet to go to training school.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 4 years ago from Pune, India

      Interesting and useful information

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 4 years ago from Iowa

      Very interesting. I always heard dogs are color blind. I'm glad you addressed that.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      This was really interesting. This is the first I have heard dog see color. I always believed they did but the last I heard they didn't...so glad to read that.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I love dogs, can't have them right now due to working schedules, but will again some day I suppose. Very nice post on understanding how dogs use their senses. Very educational.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Informative hub! Voted up.

      Being a wildlife conservationist, I know that dogs olfactory senses are being used to locate scat of endangered wildlife on ground to determine the status of threatened animals like wolf and elephants. Their superior smell is also being used to protect white whales.

      Information about dog's sense of smell should be helpful for all dog owners who walk our dogs once or twice or even more every day. I allow my dog to smell as much as he wants to. When my family and friends were hiking to watch fall colours, we let our boy smell the fall aromas. Now when we hike in the snow, we let him smell the winter smells. But I have seen people who don't allow their dogs to smell as much as they should They pull the leash as soon as the dog starts sniffing. This is equal to humans seeing a beautiful mountain with clouds descending on it and as soon as we see it, someone pulls us away.

      When one walks his / her dog, please ensure that one walk every other day should be a sniff walk only :-)

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Carol. Hey, that's interesting!! Should've connected with you earlier about life in Singapore! Thanks for sharing, will catch up with you on that.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Carol. Hey, that's interesting!! Should've connected with you earlier about life in Singapore! Thanks for sharing, will catch up with you on that.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Eddy, you too!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Mary, yes, Baby is probably using the extra organ she has in her nose to get to know things around her. She is an alert and curious pup! And her excellent hearing is probably what makes her a little afraid of thunderstorms as well. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Say hi to them for me, Bill!!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Jaye, this is why a dog is truly and wondrous creature. Schnauzers are alert little dogs! And loving too. I have one myself! Glad to connect, Jaye!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, kids crafts! Yes, dogs are more loyal and helpful creatures, but cats are surely cleaner. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Ruchira, thanks so much! Yes, do let her know....sometimes, the dog might associate with the trainer so well that it will take some time before adjusting to the owner. So that might be a problem. Thanks for that, and I hope it helps your friend!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Janismus!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Deb!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, they do see color, though the range is limited for the sake of seeing at night. Thanks for sharing, Jackie!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Dianna!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Suhail, you are indeed correct. We should give our dogs the opportunity to get to know the world around them through their noses. THanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi to Emma, Janine, and looks like I have another younger dog lover. Glad to connect with her on that one!!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      Though we don't have dog at the moment, we have raised dogs for many years. However, my knowledge is very limited. Thanks for sharing this brilliant hub.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      I Love dogs - this is all very interesting and informative. There's always something new to learn. Thank you. Also I've just been reading about dogs who assist the hearing impaired with huge success. My dog - of course - is perfect!!!!!!!!LOL

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      My little friend is growing older and has problems seeing, but she makes up for it with her sense of smell and she most certainly still has her sense of fun! She loves to play. An interesting hub, thank you.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Well Michelle, you've explained why my Min Pin acts like a bloodhound when he's out for a walk, smelling everything within his reach! I was familiar with the rest of the information in your hub but like the way you explained the use of the clicker.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Vinaya! Am always glad to share any information I have about dogs. Glad you came by!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Travmaj, am glad to hear that you've a great relationship with your dog! Thanks for coming by!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      My schnauzer is blind too, Blossom. She gets by with a limited sense of sight. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks Mary! Yes, they do have a sense of smell 100,000 times ours. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 4 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Much has been written about the dog's sense of smell, but I didn't realize their sense of taste was less strong. No wonder they can eat those nasty dog food formulas! Very interesting to learn about their different senses! Thank you for sharing! Kathi :O)

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Wonderful read! Aren't dogs awesome? Voted up!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Alenandry!! They're awesome indeed!!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      That's right Kathi! Glad to see you! They are not as sharp with taste. And yes, the things they can eat! Thanks for sharing!

    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Very interesting hub! I learned a lot here!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Pinkchic! Glad you found it useful!

    • cassandralea profile image

      cassandralea 4 years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks!! This is great info about the first 5 senses! But how do you explain my dog stirring and barking 5 minutes before her friend rings the doorbell! Aha, more senses :)

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I love how you included things to do with our dogs' senses. I'm not much good at training my Max, but we usually use food, not touch. Might have to try that. Interesting and up

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Try making use of his nose more as you give him treats, Glimmer! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi, Cassandra! Yes, their sense of hearing is that sharp! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Michelle ~ this is a great article. I thought I knew a lot but I always learn more from your hubs about dogs. Fun and informative!

    • tebo profile image

      tebo 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Great explanation of how a dogs senses help them and how we can train them using their senses. Their sense of smell never ceases to amaze me.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Oh this is such a helpful hub. Dogs are so amazing, thanks for helping me find ways to understand mine better. Can't wait to try some of the training ideas, thanks!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      HI Sharon, glad to share what I know. Glad you found it engaging! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, tebo, it's 100,000 times better than ours! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Ruby, thank you!! Hope the training ideas work for your dog!!

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Another great hub! This explains so much about why my dogs bark at everything including what I think is nothing.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      That's true, Better Yourself. They hear more clearly than we do! Thanks for sharing!

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