Dogs Live in a world of scent, which we as humans simply cannot appreciate. From the moment they are born, puppies use their nose to find about the world around them. They learn about what their sense of small can achieve and generally what it is like to ‘smell like a dog’!


It is a commonly held belief that a dog’s nose should be wet if the dog is healthy. This is not necessarily the case however. Moisture on the surface of the nose does allow scent molecules to dissolve in the air and this helps a dog to smell more effectively. If does are observed whilst performing scentwork, many will stop for regular drinks and then will return to work. It is not simply that it is thirsty work, but that the dogs are preparing themselves to take in more of the scent.


Did you know the following facts about your dog’s nose?

  • Dogs are able to smell ‘in stereo’. They can actually pick up different smells in each individual nostril at eh same time!
  • Dogs are able tom pinpoint the exact direction from which a smell originates
  • As dogs breathe in, air is expelled through the side splits of the nose. This helps them to take in as much scent as possible. The human nose is not nearly as resourceful. We can only perform one action at a time. When we breathe out, we lose most of the scent!
  • The membranes that capture scent particles for a dog reach a distance of over 200cm squared. In humans, it is just 4 cm squared.
  • Dogs have an organ at the back of the palate in their mouths. It is known as Jacobson’s organ, after the person who identified it. Sometimes it is called the vomeronasal organ too. Look out for your dog’s teeth almost chattering as they sniff in the park or on the beach. This is the sound the organ makes as the dog ‘drinks’ in the lovely smells.
  • Dogs don’t just smell scents, they read them! If a dog smells another dog’s urine for example, it is able to gather a whole range of information – age, state of health, sex, mating status, mood. They can find out a lot of the same information about us too!
  • Dogs can help people who suffer from a range of conditions such as r seizures. They are able to smell the biological and chemical changes that take place in the body, up to 45 minutes before a seizure takes place.
  • Dogs being tested in medical detection work are proving to be more accurate at detecting prostate cancer that urine testing by humans.
  • Some dogs are even trained to detect damp rot or even work as living and breathing smoke detectors!
  • Bloodhounds have been known to track scents for up to 300 hours consistently!


You don’t really need to teach your dog how to carry out scent work, you can just help them to use their very natural ability and instinct to find specific smells. Working (playing) with your dog in this way is both fascinating and fun, whether it is in a class, for search and rescue purpose or just at home.

This type of play can be very simple –

  • Try hiding your dog’s favourite toy in the home and encourage him / her to find it. Success should bring a tasty reward and lots of praise.
  • Now raise the stakes and turn off the lights first, so your dog must only rely on its nose.
  • Can your dog find something more unusual – an old sock, a teabag?

The main goal is to have fun and your dog will soon become tired too.


One quote perfectly summarizes the ability of a canine nose in comparison with a human one………

“A dog would be appalled if he smelled through our nose” (Budianksy, Stephen, 2000).


Article produced by Joanne Owen BA Hons. ADip CBM
Registered Accredited Animal Behaviourist (Animal Behaviour & Training Council)
Registered Animal Training Instructor (Animal Behaviour & Training Council)
Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (01216)

This article remains © Joanne Owen 2019




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