Dogs and Their Outstanding Noses

How has your dog amazed you?
By Karen B. London PhD, September 2009, Updated June 2021

It is well known that dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell. Nearly everyone who has lived with dogs has a story illustrating these astonishing olfactory abilities, and here is mine:

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?

 Image: iStock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life