Why do dogs sniff?

Why do dogs sniff?

Dogs ‘see’ the world through their nose much like we humans ‘see’ the world through our eyes.

No, not literally, but think of it this way- blindness (minus the danger roads present) wouldn’t present much of a handicap at all to today’s domesticated dog; they could continue to live out their lives in the perfect happiness they always have!

Take away a dog’s sense of smell, however, and you’ve crippled him far worse than blindness would cripple a person.

Simple Differences

Unlike humans, each and every one of a dog’s senses have evolved over thousands of years to augment its’ tracking/hunting ability. Their sight has developed to pick out rapid, tiny movements of prey, especially in low-light; their acuity however isn’t very good compared to ours. The sharp, clear and vibrant world we see is a bit more blurry, a but ‘duller’ to their eyes.

  • Contrary to the old belief, dogs (and cats) can see some color, rather than simple black and white.

Don’t worry. Their nose more than makes up for the differences; and it does so by enormous leaps and bounds! Not even the great hunting cats of the world come anywhere near to comparing to that of a little teacup; the difference would be laughable.

  • Scientists say dogs can smell about 10,000x better than we humans can. Cats can smell about 3x better.

Dogs possess about 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our six million. The portion of a dog’s brain devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionately, about 40x larger than ours. On top of that, the anatomy that makes up their nose is devoted to the task; you could say their head was build to be a ‘smell reception factory’!


A dog’s incredible ability to smell is meant to augment its’ tracking ability, ultimately helping it hunt for food, or at least that is the case with wild animals. Though domestic dogs no longer need to hunt, the scene hasn’t diminished in the least.

Dogs are able to pick up ‘messages’ via other animal’s urine; things like age, gender, mood, even health. Intact male dogs will often ‘mark’ raised objects, letting other dogs know they were there.

  • A dog’s nose is so unique, it is often compared to a human fingerprint; no two noses are alike!

Yes, it’s true; dogs are the absolute best trackers on the face of the earth. Well, at least the best trackers we humans can work with. Search and rescue dogs are often able to trail a day old scent from over a mile away, or buried deep within snow!

The only way to escape a Bloodhound’s nose, in fact, would probably be either locking yourself deep in an underground mine or swimming miles out into the ocean; they can just about track anything. Crossing streams and rivers will only slow them down; the dogs are able to pick up floating scent particles that wash along the banks.

  • The Brown Bear, on the other hand, is believed to surpass the bloodhound’s sense of smell by about 100 times. Unfortunately, there is about no way we can work safely with one!

The Power of a Hound

Account for everything explained above, and move a little further. A hound’s ears are droopy because they are meant to ‘stir up’ scent particles as they track, making them yet easier for their nose to detect. Their tails help ‘sweep’ scent particles toward their face (this goes most breeds, not just hounds).

Not only is their sense of smell stronger than the avg. dogs, their entire body was built to augment this ability!

  • Docking a dog’s tail, a practice banned in the UK but still common in America, both diminishes a dog’s body language & communication ability, as well as limiting their senses to a degree.

Dogs can actually detect some odors in parts per trillion.

What does that mean, exactly? Believe it or not, the avg. dog would be able to detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, ( two Olympic-sized pools).

Why Do Dogs Sniff Butts?

Dogs release pheromones through apocrine glands, conveying information like health and mood, throughout their entire body (mostly around the groin area and anus).

So, now you know why dogs smell the rear ends of other dogs, but why humans? The human equivalents of these glands are found in only certain areas of the body,the highest concentrations being in the underarm and crotch.

The thought may be a little embarrassing, but dogs can easily detect ovulation cycles in human females. Some dairy farmers even use them to capitalize on limited fertility windows!

Of course, the dog has no idea people may find a ‘nose to the crotch’ embarrassing; they are simply looking for information, often instinctively.

A Sniffing Conclusion

Imagine a world of colorful, vibrant scents, a world where everything is alive with its’ own flurry of smells. Everything, even the tiniest aspect- like a small rock in a sea of sand, the tiniest ingredient in a salad- everything is waving with it’s own ‘flag’ so to speak.

Like our human brains interpret the world through our eyes, dogs ‘see’ through their noses!

  • The ability to distinguish scents varies between breeds; most short nosed breeds lacking the same level of ability that longer nosed ones do (although they are still very powerful in that respect).
  • Dogs can tell, simply by passing a lamp post another dog has urinated on, the sex, age, and status of that dog, as well as the ‘age’ of the marking.

  • Aromas, like lavender, has been shown to affect a dog’s mood, but there is no solid proof.

  • A dog’s nose is so powerful, some breeds are now being trained to detect cancerous cells in humans!

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