Understanding Dogs’ Sense Of Smell

We know dogs have a superior sense of smell than we do. Here’s the science behind their remarkable ability, according to cognitive scientist Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, who runs the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College.

First: Humans have 6 million olfactory receptors, and inhale twice every 3 seconds… while dogs have 50 times MORE receptors and sniff up to 15 times more frequently. So, they process nearly 5-THOUSAND-percent more odor molecules than we do.

Then: Did you know that the reason dogs lick all the time has a lot to do with their sense of smell? They basically enhance their sense of smell by licking. Dr. Horowitz says dogs have a secondary smell system near the roof of their mouth that identifies scent molecules touched by their tongue. So, licking your face to get at aromas on your skin helps them learn what you had for lunch, or licking your hand tells them you petted another dog.

So, why do dogs love really gross, stinky stuff? Because they love strong odors, and they don’t have the same “noxious scent” brain receptors we do. So, they’re fascinated by odors we might find disgusting.

Even a dog’s wagging tail is related to smell. Because a dog’s body odor, so to speak, comes from glands near their rump. So when a dog wags its tail, it’s like a human exposing their armpit and wafting the scent around. A dog’s wag disperses their personal odor.

So, how can you improve your OWN sense of smell?

Get close to fragrances – like a perfume bottle, or a handful of crushed leaves… then take long, focused sniffs, and name the aromas. That’ll be about as close as you can get to sensing the world like a dog.

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