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Studies Show Your Dog’s Nose Helps Them Tell Time—Yes, Really

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It’s no secret that dogs have an incredible sense of smell. We’ve been able to train them to do some really amazing things with their noses, but we still might not be able to fully grasp the complexity of the canine olfactory system. Just when we thought detecting drugs, weapons, cancers and other substances were awesome enough, we’ve learned that dogs can actually tell time with their noses. Yep, you read that right. Your pup can tell what time it is by their sense of smell. NYMag.com’s Science of Us reported on this fascinating subject.

Alexandra Horowitz, founder of Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab, wrote about her theory regarding this in her recent book, Being a Dog“As each day wears a new smell, its hours mark changes in odors that your dog can notice,” Horowitz writes. “Dogs smell time.” Her theory suggests that just in the same way we use our eyes to tell time, dogs use their noses. When we think about humans, we can understand that we are visual creatures, figuring out what time it is by the way the light is hitting the earth and the shadows created.

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Dogs, on the other hand, can use their noses to do the exact same thing. Horowitz writes, “Smells in a room change as the day goes on. Hot air rises, and it usually rises in currents along the walls, and will rise to the ceiling and go to the center of the room and drop. And so, if we were able to visualize the movement of air through the day, what we’re really visualizing is the movement of odor through the day.”

This means that dogs smell the difference between morning and evening and they can follow the change of time throughout the day as heat rises and scents change. They are able to detect not only what or who has been in the area, but how long ago they were there.“So being able to detect the concentration of a smell, they’re not only seeing what it is, but how long ago it was left,” says Horowitz. “And the future, in a way, is smelled on a breeze from up ahead, or around a corner.” This probably explains why our dogs smell us so intently when we’ve only been outside for 10 minutes or less. They aren’t necessarily happy to see us, they’re just figuring out where we were, when, and what we were up to. That said, we’d like to think they’re just happy to see us too.

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