Your dog’s nose is an incredible tool. Just as we heavily rely on our eyes to interpret the world around us, they rely on their noses. Using their noses, they gather information about the past, present and the future to form a complex picture of their surroundings.
So why do canine noses far surpass ours? First, each nostril is able to sniff independently of the other. This ability to sniff separately allows them to pinpoint the location or source of a smell to a high degree of accuracy. When they take in air through their noses, it is separated for two different purposes. The first is for breathing, the second is for smelling. The air for smelling goes into a chamber called the olfactory recess which is home to sensory cells that feed information to the brain. While humans have 6 million of these scent receptors, dogs have 300 million AND the portion of their brain that is dedicated to olfaction is 40% larger than ours, relatively speaking!
In the time it takes 1 second to pass, dogs are able to sniff 5 times. They are able to build up the concentration of a scent very successfully thanks to the flaps on the sides of their noses where they actually exhale from. This setup creates a swirling airflow that brings air into their nostrils and they get a fresh sample each time. You may see a dog who is scenting lick their nose. Because a dog’s nose is like a sponge, the wetness actually traps the odour molecules so that when a dog licks its nose, it is actually sampling the smells!
Your dog can gather a ton of information from scents and use these odour profiles to determine what the smell is, where it is coming from, and what direction it is moving in. Smells hold information about who was there, what they were eating, their health, are they a friend, foe or even a potential mate! They can gather info that is fresh from an hour ago or even from a week ago!
So why should I let my dog sniff? Taking your dog on a walk and not letting them sniff is the equivalent of you going window shopping blindfolded. Remember they see the world through their nose! Yes, exercise and movement are important, but sniffing is a true mental workout for your dog and central to your dog’s emotional well-being, so the two should go hand in hand. Consider this, you might think a high energy dog needs more physical exercise, but the more you exercise, the more of an athlete he will become and you will create a dog with incredible endurance! This is awesome for some people, but probably not the average pet owner. Working your dog’s brain by allowing them to sniff, however, physically lowers a dog’s pulse, it is calming, and incredibly enriching since they are able to engage in natural doggy behaviors.
So the next time your dog stops to sniff, give them time to, and remember just how incredible a dog’s nose is. From detecting missing persons, diseases, and even detecting our emotional states, we owe it to our dogs to let them explore the world in their way.
Alexis Chateau is the cat-momma of Shadow, the pompous PR puss who writes for the Dog Gon’ Good Time blog. She is also a former animal shelter volunteer who has helped to rehabilitate dozens of cats and dogs, as well as a strong advocate for #AdoptDontShop. Find her team on Twitter and Facebook as @AlexisChateauPR.