Our dog Bugsy (half black Lab, half handsome stranger) was not the cleverest of dogs, and we eventually learned to embrace the moments when he showed his lack of Einsteinian brain powers. One day on our farm, he suddenly began to sniff his own footsteps in the snow, backtracking for several hundred feet along his own path. I chuckled to myself about his silliness, and even said aloud (to no effect), “Those are your own footsteps, you nut.” Finally, he veered away from his own path and continued to track. Upon investigation, I realized that he was tracking a rabbit, and that he had first caught the trail in his own paw print. He had stepped onto a rabbit paw print hundreds of feet before, and yet there was enough scent to get his attention and for him to follow. It made me wonder how many other times I had erroneously identified his behavior as resulting from low IQ rather than existing in a different sensory universe.
My dog amazed me that day, and I’ve heard many tales of dogs saving the day by smelling lost children, gas leaks, intruders, injured pet cats and dangerously low blood sugar levels. How have the abilities of your dog’s nose astounded you?
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.