L?et’s consider what it would be like to live in a world where scent dominates every activity. Imagine a sense of smell so powerful that chicken soup smells like a potpourri of individual foods, decisions are based upon smell and survival depends upon this vital sense. Consider what it would be like to recognise people by their scent and smell their emotions. Envisage the ‘happy’ smell of a babbling brook, the ‘brave’ smell of earth or the ‘delightful‘ smell of a warm summer’s day. This is a glimpse into a canine world where odour is colourful, meaningful, evokes powerful emotions and relays important information.
With a sense of smell approximately 10,000 times more sensitive than ours a dog can detect substances at concentrations of up to one hundred million times lower than we can perceive. The olfactory bulb, where information about odours is processed in the brain, is about the size of a plumb in our dogs compared to the size of a raisin in us. Dogs have a second sensory system for olfaction called the vomeronasal organ. We may see our dog licking the air, mouth-smacking and tongue flicking. This flehmen response allows scent particles to be captured by the tongue, opening ducts to allow pheromones to access the vomeronasal organ. Scent memory lasts many years if not for lifetime.
Some scents make our dogs feel more secure. DAP diffusers produce man-made pheromones that may reduce anxiety and essential oils such as lavender and chamomile have been show to induce relaxation in shelter dogs1. Certain reference points in the home marked with essential oil may help a dog with failing eyesight orientate towards a water bowl or the back door.
Many dogs enjoy scent games. A simple game is to place out several engineering bricks and put a highly scented treat in one of the holes. Send your dog to find it. Since he cannot reach the treat without your help he is likely to indicate with a paw tap, sit, stand or stare. When he indicates say “yes” and lift the brick for him to reach the food.
Initially make the game easy by having a treat in each brick. Another pleasurable past time is foraging for food, so why not throw a handful of kibble around the garden?
Whilst we cannot share our dog’s rich world of scent, we can enhance his environment with scent games and enrich his walk by allowing him to ‘sniff ’ around the block. Next time you walk your dog, do not think in minutes or duration but in sniffing time. When he pauses for thought and is ‘reading the headlines’, take a moment to contemplate his extraordinary world of scent.
1 Graham, Wells, & Hepper, (2005). The influence of olfactory stimulation on
the behavior of dogs housed in a rescue shelter. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 91(1-2), 143-153.
Laurence, K (2012). Intelligent Dog Training e-Course. Course Notes. Canine On-Line Learning And Resources, Learning About Dogs Ltd, UK.
Horowitz, A (2009). The Inside of a Dog – What Dogs See, Smell and Know? Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, London, UK. McConnell, P B (2007). For the Love of a Dog. Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing Group, Random House Inc, New York, USA.
Sacks, O (1985). The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Touchstone Books, USA.