Dogs are amazing creatures with incredible senses of smell. Have you ever opened a bag of treats and seen your dog run in from another part of the house? That is because your dog’s nose is so sensitive that it can pick up scents you and I cannot. So, if your dog can smell his favorite treats being opened from another room, what else can he smell? How far away can he smell another dog?
Assuming that the weather conditions are ideal and your dog is healthy, the average dog can smell up to 12.4 miles away¹, or 20 kilometers. However, some breeds can smell even farther. To learn more about the incredible capabilities of your dog’s nose, keep reading below.
Why Do Dogs Have Such a Good Sense of Smell?
Dogs have a sense of smell that is 100,000 times greater than humans. But how is their sense of smell so powerful? The answer is that dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors¹ in their noses. For comparison, humans only have about 6 million.
The way that a dog’s brain works also plays into why dogs have such a keen sense of smell. In dogs, the portion of the brain geared toward assessing scents is 40 times more developed than ours. Likewise, many dogs have neophilia¹ or an attraction to new things. So, when dogs sense an unfamiliar smell, their neophilia will lock onto it and keep them engaged.
Another reason that dogs can smell much better than a human can is due to physical differences in our nasal airways. Humans inhale and smell through the same passage; however, dogs have a tissue inside their nasal cavities that helps separate the two functions. So, when humans exhale, we eject any scent particles we may have inhaled. But when dogs exhale, the air escapes through the slits in the side of their nose and allows them to keep the scent.
Unlike humans, dogs can move their nostrils independently. This may not seem vital for sensing scents, but it plays a massive role in determining where a smell emanates from. When a dog wiggles one nostril and then the other, he can determine which side the smell is coming from. That helps him to locate the source of the smell much more rapidly than any human could.
Amazing Capabilities of the Dog’s Nose
A dog’s nose is a powerful tool, more sensitive than even the most sophisticated man-made instrument. This is why dogs have been put to use in all sorts of situations, such as sniffing out criminals, drugs, and bombs.
Beyond public safety, dogs have been helpful companions on important research expeditions. Whale researchers could not properly run tests on whale feces for a long time due to their difficulty finding them. Whale feces float on the ocean’s surface for no more than 30 minutes. A team of researchers had only been able to find five samples in 2 weeks. That was until they enlisted the help of dogs. When they brought dogs on the boat, they found an average of 12 samples per day.
Another example of the incredible capabilities of dog noses is how dogs can sense illness¹ in a person. If given a breath or urine sample to smell, some dogs can determine whether a person has cancer. A dog can sense breast cancer with up to 88% accuracy. A dog is accurate 99% of the time with lung cancer. Those results are comparable to modern, sophisticated scanning techniques.
Fascinating Facts About the Dog’s Nose
If you want to know more about what the dog’s nose is capable of, look at these fun facts!
1. Dogs Can Inhale and Exhale at the Same Time
A dog’s nose is designed to allow air to flow in and out of the nose, which allows it to hold on to scents longer.
2. Dogs Have Another Organ that Supports Their Sense of Smell
Dogs have a vomeronasal organ (also called Jacobson’s organ¹). This organ is inside a dog’s nasal cavity and helps to detect chemicals such as pheromones.
3. A Dog’s Nose Can Tell Time
By sensing the slightest reduction in odor molecules, dogs can determine how much time has passed. This is especially helpful for tracking dogs.
Dogs with the Best Sense of Smell
Although the average dog can already pick up scents from far away, some breeds can pick up a scent from even farther.
It is truly incredible what dogs are capable of. It’s no wonder that we have used dogs for centuries to help us with all sorts of tasks. Even as a dog’s purpose evolves to the modern world, its sense of smell remains as strong as ever. So, next time your dog smells his treats from the other room, take a moment to appreciate the powerful sense of smell he has.