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The Science Behind Dogs Amazing Sense of Smell

Updated on September 24, 2013

Dogs truly are amazing animals. They are loyal companions, trusted house guards, and an endless source of joy. But what really makes them unique is their extraordinary sense of smell. Dogs sense the world through smell much in the same way we sense it through vision, but when compared to our vision, dogs sense of smell blows us out of the water.

In fact, when compared to a human’s ability to smell, dogs can detect scents somewhere to between 1,000 to 10,000 times better. If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well. A dog’s sense of smell is so pinpoint that it can even detect a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic size pool. Their incredible ability to pick up even the most minute substances from miles away makes dogs invaluable in a variety of professional services as well. So what is it that gives dogs this amazing sense of smell?

In order to get more respect for a dog’s incredible sense of smell, lets examine how their olfactory system works. The percentage of the brain that is devoted to smell is nearly 40% greater than that of a human. Whereas humans have around 5 million scent receptors that allow them to smell the world around them, a bloodhound has around 300 million. Their nose is equally as impressive.

The inside of a dog’s nose contains an organ with a thick, spongy membrane that contains most of their scent detecting cells. When laid our flat, these cells can be as large as 60 square inches. A human’s on the other hand would only be the size of a postage stamp. This may lead some people to believe that a dog’s ability to smell is associated with the length of their nose, and they would be right; however, even flat-nosed breeds can detect scents far beyond the average human. Although not as big as a long-nosed breed, flat-nosed breeds still obtain a much larger portion of cells devoted to scent than humans.

In addition to having a much larger percentage of their brain and nose devoted to smelling, dog’s acute sense of smell is also due to how air flows through their nostrils. Rather than utilize the same air flow path in their nostrils as humans do, dog’s have two separate paths, one for respiratory function and the other for scent reception. This, combined with their incredible scent detecting biology, allows them to detect even the smallest traces of scent from miles away. To better understand this, consider your own nasal breathing. When we breath out from our noses we push away any scent that might be able to come in our noses. Dogs on the other hand can continuing detecting scent even when they are exhaling through the respiratory part of their nose.

Detecting Bed Bugs

Their amazing sense of smell has made dogs a valuable tool in pest detection services, especially in detecting bed bugs. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to find as they are small and great at hiding. For humans, finding bed bugs in a large home can take hours and requires expert skills in pest detection. For dogs, there is no concern over the size of these pests, only their scent. Even in a large, cluttered environment, dogs can detect bed bugs in a fraction of the time that a human could, and much more accurately as well. This has also helped reduce the costs of bed bug detecting services in large facilities like schools and apartment complexes as it takes much less time.

Dog’s sense of smell is truly astounding, especially when compared to the senses of humans. With their unique nose structure and brain function, dog’s can smell up to 10,000 times better than a human. When these natural abilities are honed with expert detection training, dogs can become invaluable pieces in the detection of even the smallest of pests. By reducing detection time and increasing accuracy, dogs are becoming an integral part of professional pest managers, police, and even military services.

About the Author

Daniel Mackie, owner of GreenLeaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.

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    • davidfaltz lm profile image

      davidfaltz lm 4 years ago

      @DawnRae64: It is quite amazing and nothing to sneeze at :). Glad you enjoy it.

    • DawnRae64 profile image

      Dawn 4 years ago from Maryland, USA

      Oh wow...i knew dogs have an amazing sniffer... but bed bugs? That's interesting new information. Thanks for sharing.