Math, however, is not their thing. Their noses are. In the wild, the canines’
highly refined sense of smell is a key to their survival. They depend on it to
find food, detect danger, and communicate. Although the majority of our
domesticated pooches don’t have to preoccupy themselves with survival issues
nowadays, their noses remain their major source of information about the world
around them. As my friend observed:
you take your dog for a walk and he methodically stops to thoroughly examine
every single lamppost and every single hydrant, it’s not to annoy you - he is
simply finding out what’s going on in the neighborhood. In other words, he is
checking his p-mail."
Canines possess capabilities that humans cannot begin to duplicate, or often
even comprehend. While you were impatiently tapping your foot on the pavement
waiting for Fido to finally quit examining the smelly fire hydrant, he was
actually getting 411’s on all recent visitors to the area including their sex,
diet, health, and even emotional state. Important stuff. If you think about it,
it’s quite incredible. It took Fido all of about 30 seconds (even though it
felt more like ages to you) to sniff out all that info. How much manpower,
time, and resources do you think would some human-staffed agency need to
complete the same task? Exactly. That is why dogs with their incredible
resources - oops, I mean - noses make such exceptional partners in law
enforcement agencies, fire investigations among them.
Besides being so irresistibly cute, dogs’ noses have approximately two hundred
million nasal olfactory receptors, somewhere between 20 to 40 times more than
humans. The receptors detect and identify the tiny odor molecules, and through
the olfactory nerve pass the information to the brain. No rocket science here.
Our noses work the same way. The similarities end here, though. To illustrate
the finer points of the superior canine olfactory system lets picture the
following fictional though realistic scene.
Exhausted and slightly annoyed after patiently accompanying Fido to all the
local lampposts and hydrants, you are finally walking back home. Fido trots
happily, satisfied with the highly stimulating and informative sweep of the
neighborhood. You look down at Fido and wish he would at least stop wagging his
tail. It’s dinnertime, your stomach is growling, your feet are killing you, and
you just missed your favorite TV show. Hey, but you made it. You’re only a
short distance from your house, your couch, your remote control - and as things
start to look up, a heavenly smell fills your nostrils. Wow! You say to no one
in particular -- and your stomach replays: Wow indeed!
From the look and smell of things, you conclude that one of your neighbors - a
cat owner no doubt - is just serving dinner. You register the smell and wonder
which of your neighbors is the lucky owner of a cat and the mouth-watering
meal. While trying to control the over-stimulated saliva glands, you conclude
that the smell comes from either The Smiths’ house on the left, The Johnsons’
on the right, or The Morellis’ across the street. Proud of your deductive and
analytical skills, you remain completely oblivious to the fact that Fido
already figured out not only that it is, in fact, The Morellis’, but also, that
they are actually eating Filet Mignon - your favorite.
At home, you decide to skip cooking and go for a take-out. For some weird reason
you are craving Filet Mignon, so you grab the phone and order your favorite
dish. Twenty minutes later, you open your dinner container and it strikes you
that the wonderful smell filling your nostrils right now is EXACTLY the same
you encountered only 30 minutes earlier while passing The Smiths’ house.
If Fido could read your mind or chuckle, he would chuckle at your silly
thoughts. Pathetic really. The sorry excuse for filet mignon you’re devouring
so happily smells absolutely nothing like the tender dish Mrs. Morelli’s family
is enjoying. For one, Mrs. Morelli used fresh rosemary, freshly ground black
pepper, and home made chicken stock -- not the powdery stuff that they use in
restaurants. Fido sighs the dog equivalent of a sigh: "Humans, you’ve got to
If it sounds to you like a low budget, unsuccessful joint venture between The
Animal Planet and the Sci-Fi Channel, don’t be fooled. Just read on, my friend.
We are, indeed, perfectly capable of detecting a presence of odor (although
sometimes we wished we weren’t). When it comes to identifying the direction
from which the odor is emanating, however, our ratings go down. Way down.
The dog’s brain can determine which nostril has the greatest concentration of
odor. You’ve seen a dog lifting his heads up and sort of flaring his nostrils.
When the odor is more intense in his left nostril, he knows, the odor comes
from the left. By the same token, when the smell is more intense in his right
nostril, it comes from the right. When the intensity is balanced in both
nostrils, the dog knows the smell emanates from the front. Pretty cool, hmm?
Don’t try this at home, though. Trying to outshine your dog? Com’n man, you
will only embarrass yourself. Besides you will look silly flaring your nostrils
left and right. Take your olfactory inferiority like a man, will you? Besides,
Fido couldn’t care less. He will love you forever, bad nose and all.
Digressing, am I?
OK, so we know how Fido "nailed" Mrs. Morelli; but what about the rosemary,
black pepper, and home made chicken stock? How did the smarty-pants figure this
one out, you ask? Prepare to be amazed.
Dogs are capable of something that we, inferior humans, call odor layering.
Simply put, if we walked into Mrs. Morelli’s kitchen, we would smell her
wonderful filet mignon. Fido, who’d undoubtedly follow us, would, on the other
hand, smell the meat, home made chicken stock, fresh rosemary, freshly ground
black pepper, salt, balsamic vinegar, two cloves of garlic (minced) and 1
tablespoon of butter (optional).
Given only a few minutes, and a chance to walk around, Fido could also
distinguish the individual scents of all the Morellis’ around the table
including their deodorants, hair sprays, and yes, BOs. You get the idea.
This incredible olfactory potential combined with just the right training can
turn a lovable pooch into an invaluable (and still lovable) work partner. To
find out how the CCFD Investigations Division
works hand in paw with these amazing creatures, click here.