A Dog's Nose

How powerful is a dog’s nose, really, and how does it work? You may wonder why dogs in particular are used to sniff for drugs at the airport and lost children in the forest. Are they really that good at sniffing out their target? In short, yes.

When you walk through the street, you view the world through your eyes: you notice and evaluate people who walk by, assess and determine welcoming parties and/or threatening situations, and maneuver yourself based on what you see. Much like your eyes, a dog’s nose opens up a world of information that we, as people, are not privy to. Although it is a different world than from what we humans observe, it is every much as complicated and nuanced as our own.

Why can dogs smell with more distinction than humans? Both humans and dogs contain little organs called turbinates, a tiny, scroll-shaped plate made out of bone, inside their noses. It is this thick and sponge-like membrane that deals with our sense of smell, allowing air to pass over it and detecting scents to transport that information to the brain. In a human, a postage stamp could fit over the area of our turbinates, which all said and done is about one square inch. However, the unfolded and flattened area of a dog’s turbinates can be as huge as sixty square inches!

So how powerful does that make a dog’s nose, exactly? Well, besides being unbelievably cute (a dog can wiggle each nostril independently), a dog’s nose leaves a person’s nose in the dust. Of course, all dogs are not created equal. Bloodhounds, for instance, are often referred to as noses with dogs attached to them! While they are loving and loyal companions, bloodhound dogs are used for hunting and helping search-and-rescue practices. And here’s why: While people have around five million cells devoted to scent, bloodhounds retain up to 300 million. (The German Shepherd is close behind with 225 million, with the beagle trailing at 225 millions cells, and the Fox terrier sitting pretty at 147 million.)

Dogs can identify smells between 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than we can. To put it in another way, while we mere humans smell something called vegetable soup, the mighty dog species discerns each ingredient and how much of each is used. If you were to put one tablespoon of sugar in the amount of water it would take to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools, a dog would notice.

A dog’s nose does not just act as its focal sense when viewing the world; it also can be used to identify it in the same manner that your fingerprints identify you. A dog’s nose is full of ridges and dimples that wrap around its nasal holes, making up such a unique and individual pattern that companies and kennel clubs even offer to register the nose prints for identification and location of lost and/or stolen dogs. To take your own identification marking of your best friend’s nose, simply wipe the wet nose down with a clean towel until it is dry, dollop a bit of food coloring on a paper towel, and gently brush it against your pet’s nose. Once you’ve completed that, simply take a pad of paper, hold it (gently, but firmly) against its nose, and make sure that the paper curves around to pick up the side of the nose impressions, too. Remember, though, to never use ink, paint, or anything else. Food coloring is non-toxic and can easily be wiped off your little pooch’s snout. You may have to try a few times until your print comes out clean, but then you’ll have your dog’s very own version of a fingerprint to keep!


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