Have you ever wondered why humans use dogs to support them in so many different working roles? One of the reasons is that their senses are so amazing, especially their sense of smell. There is a significant difference in a human’s sense of smell and that of a dog’s, so they can detect smells that we cannot. While humans have a mere five million olfactory cells in our noses, dogs have between 200 million and a billion, depending on the breed. Therefore, there are at least 200 million reasons for dogs to love sniffing
Canine Olfactory Structures
According to The Bark, dogs have a unique olfactory structure that gives them such an amazing sense of smell. The nasal cavity is lined with a specialized tissue called the olfactory epithelium. It is this tissue that contains the millions of olfactory neurons, which are the cells that detect odors. While humans have just 10 centimeters square of this tissue, dogs have around 170 centimeters square. This does not mean that dogs have noses that are 17 times larger than those of humans’ the additional surface area is because the tissue has folds and crevices.
The Working Roles of Sniffer Dogs
Due to the amazing sense of smell that dogs possess, they are used to support humans in a wide variety of working roles. Some examples of these include:
- Detection dogs- One of the main uses of sniffer dogs is as detection dogs that support the work of the police, armed forces, and security services. They are trained to detect the smells of things such as bombs, drugs, illegal substances, and contraband items.
- Search and rescue dogs- There are dogs that work as search and rescue dogs. They are used to find missing people using the scent of the missing person’s personal items.
- Diabetes assist dogs- Some dogs are employed to work as a support for people with certain medical conditions. One example is diabetes assist dogs. These dogs are trained to detect changes in the odor of a person’s breath that occur when there are sudden changes in blood sugar levels. They can then alert their diabetic owners that they need to check their blood sugar levels and take action accordingly.
- Medical dogs- It is not just those with diabetes who can benefit from a dog’s sense of smell, as they are also used by the medical industry to detect many diseases, including cancer.
- Hunting dogs- Farmers, huntsmen, and landowners use dogs for hunting as they can use their smell to catch prey or find pests on the land. They are also used for animal retrieval after a shoot.
- Wildlife scat detection- Scat is the undigested food of wild animals, also known as feces. Scientists use scat as a non-invasive method of study certain species, such as killer whales, salamanders, and northern spotted owls. Dogs can detect and retrieve the scat for scientists.
- Bed bug detection- Increased international travel has led to greater concern about the spread of bedbug infestations. To help control this problem, dogs have been trained to detect bed bug infestations using their sense of smell.
Smelling Games and Basic Sniffing Training
Training sniffer dogs for the roles listed above is a specialist job that is only undertaken by experts. This is important as it is essential that these working dogs can fulfill their roles properly. These experts have vast experience of training dogs to recognize specific aromas, respond in a certain way, and follow directions on command. They build a rapport with the dogs they train, and spend long periods working with them to fine-tune the dog’s skills. Although it is unlikely that you can train your dog to the same level, you can train them to use their scent in certain ways and have some fun playing scent related games with them. There are plenty of videos online that show you how to play different smelling games with your dog.
One of the easiest basic training methods is to use the natural behavior of the dog. When you go for a walk, your dog probably wants to smell everything it passes. While this can seem annoying and hold up your walk, it is normal behavior for dogs as they use scent is a form of communication and it is their way of analyzing what is going on in their surroundings. It is also fun for dogs and stimulates their brains.
You can use this behavior to your advantage to teach your dog two basic commands. When you are approaching something you know your dog will want to smell, such as a street light or a tree, give it the command to ‘go sniff’. Then, allow them some time to sniff freely. After the set amount of time, give them the command ‘let’s go’ or ‘walk-on’, but use the same command each time. At first, you may need to take a toy or some treats with you to encourage them to move on. Once the dog has learned the commands, you will no longer need to bring the toys and treats.
Canine Nose Trials
Training dogs to use their amazing scent is becoming an increasingly popular activity among dog lovers. There are events called canine nose work trails that take place around the world, and these involve the dogs taking part in a variety of smell related tasks and challenges. For example, one of the challenges is identifying a set of specific smells. The events are loved by the trainers and their dogs alike, and they are hosted by an organization called the National Association of Canine Scent Work. It is a sport that experts highly recommend as it is fun and allows dog owners to show off their dog’s amazing sniffing skills and demonstrate the 200 million reasons that they love doing nose work.