Dogs have long been used for their unique scenting abilities, but just how incredible they are might surprise you. We know that dogs can track and discriminate between various scents and locate people and substances among millions of distractions, but how they’re able to do this is just as impressive. So just how awesome is a dog’s sense of smell?
#1 – Parts Per Trillion
James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, estimates that a dog’s sense of smell 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours. Putting this into perspective, we’ll assume that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times better. If we apply this to vision, it means that what we can clearly see at 1/3 of a mile a dog can see at 3,000 miles. Dogs can also detect certain odors in parts per trillion. Say we notice a teaspoon of sugar in our coffee; a dog would notice a teaspoon of sugar in one million gallons of water. That’s pretty amazing!
#2 – Special Architecture
Dogs possess 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our measly 6 million, and their noses function very differently from our own. When dogs inhale, the airflow is split into two different paths – one for respiration and one specifically for olfaction. Their olfactory receptors then filter through this air and distinguish unique scents. The way dogs exhale also allows them to sniff almost continuously, and the way the air leaves a dog’s nose actually helps bring new scents in. Further, dogs can move their nostrils independently and even determine which nostril a scent entered. This way, dogs can determine the direction of a scent with high accuracy.
#3 – Distinguishing Magic
It’s one thing that dogs can distinguish actual scents among infinite distractions, but it’s another that we can teach them to enjoy scenting so much. Search and rescue dogs remain focused on their tasks, or assigned scents, regardless of everything else around them. Think about a dog in the wilderness searching for a lost child. This dog will not only be able to physically distinguish between the smells of the forest, the animals and the missing child, he’ll be able to tell which way the child’s scent moves and make the conscious decision to lead his handlers in that direction.
Dogs are amazing animals and their scenting ability is only one of the things that make them so unique. All dogs have this incredible sense of smell and there are endless ways we can transform it to good use for humans. Dogs help locate drugs and weapons, missing victims, hidden criminals, mines, cancers and even wild animals for research. The greatness of our noble canine companions cannot be mistaken, both in their physicality and unconditional love.
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