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How Far Away Can Dogs Smell Their Owners? What the Science Says

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

Have you ever walked home only to find your dog waiting for you at the door? And have you ever tried to sneak up on them only to have them turn around and know you’re coming while you’re still far away?

One way a dog can do these things is by using their sense of smell. But how far away can a dog smell their owner and what factors affect this? Typically, a dog can smell their owner anywhere 12.5 to 40 feet away, which is quite the difference.

Keep reading and we’ll break down everything you need to know to understand the disparity and get a better understanding of just how powerful your pup’s nose is.

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How Far Away Can Dogs Smell Their Owners?

According to The University of Adelaide¹, dogs can smell people and objects as far as 20 kilometers away. That’s almost 12.5 miles away, which is quite the feat! However, it’s worth noting that this is under perfect conditions.

Under these conditions, the dog will pick up a scent on the wind, and the wind will carry the scent for much of the distance. The dog will pick up the scent, but the conditions provide much of the benefit.

Moreover, just because a dog can smell someone from that distance, that doesn’t mean they can tell people apart from that far away.

Under more controlled environments with no wind, dogs can pick scents from a particular person from about 40 feet away. At this distance, they can also tell people apart and pick out their owner’s scent. While 40 feet is far less impressive than 12.5 miles, it’s still far better than a human can do!

young husky siberian dog sniffing at human hands
Image by: Twinsterphoto, Shutterstock

How Much Stronger Is a Dog’s Sense of Smell?

It doesn’t matter how strong you think your sniffer is, a dog’s is stronger. According to the Paws & Claws Pet Medical Center¹, dogs can smell 100,000 times better than a human.

The average human has about 5 million smell receptors which might seem like a lot, but a dog has anywhere between 125 and 250 million of those same receptors. The exact amount a dog has depends on the breed, but even at 125 million smell receptors, that’s far more than a human!

Dogs can smell things 40 feet under the ground, and they can even pick up a smell from fingerprints! Admire your nose all you want, but a dog’s nose puts it to shame.

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Factors That Affect How Far a Dog Can Smell

australian sheperd dog kissing female on nose while being carried by owner
Image by: cottonbro studio, Pexels

If you’re trying to figure out just how far a dog can smell, there are a few different factors that are going to play a significant role. We’ve highlighted three of the most important factors for you to consider here:


If a dog is trying to smell anything “downwind,” they’ll be able to pick up the scent from much farther away compared to trying to smell something upwind or when there’s no wind. The wind is the primary factor that allows some dogs to pick up a scent from 12.5 miles away.

Without wind pushing the scent toward them, a dog can’t smell anywhere near that far away.


Rain pushes scents down into the ground, making it harder for a dog to pick up a specific smell. This is especially true for hunting dogs. If it’s raining, they’ll be less likely to pick up smells in the air, and they’ll need to keep their noses as close to the ground as possible to have any chance of successfully tracking anything.

Other Scents

Have you ever tried to pick up a specific smell at a landfill? It really doesn’t matter if you put a rose in the middle, the smell of all that garbage is going to drown it out.

It’s a straightforward concept, but it can make a difference even with scents that aren’t quite as extreme. This is especially true since a dog’s sense of smell is so much stronger. They’re going to pick up on even more scents, and these scents can drown out other scents.

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Closing Thoughts

There’s no denying that a dog has an extremely strong sense of smell. But the more you learn about it, the more impressive it gets. They can pick up your scent from miles away in the right conditions, and even when you’re going about your day in your home, they can smell you from at least 40 feet away.

Don’t doubt your pup’s nose, it can pick up smells you can’t even dream of!

Featured Image Credit: Anna Pozzi – Zoophotos, Shutterstock

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