Your dog, Theo, loves to sit on your front porch in the afternoon during the summer months. He loves the fresh air, the hot sun, and the consistent landscape that brings him excitement and comfort. Yet, you have begun to notice there are moments when Theo suddenly pops up from his position to sniff the air. You know Theo does this when he is on his walks, but when nothing in the environment has changed, it seems a bit peculiar. It is almost as if there is a new atmosphere in town. Could it be the wind? Could it be your scent that your dog is smelling? There are many factors that contribute to a dog’s sense of smell, whether it is their need to understand what they are smelling or their adventurous desire to search their territory.
The Root of the Behavior
There are many reasons why your dog sniffs the air and these reasons are typically for learning. Firstly, it is important to know that canines use their mouths and noses for absolutely everything. It is their way of processing the outside world and interacting with their surroundings. In fact, dogs have 220 million olfactory receptors while humans only have 5 million! That means dogs are dominated by their noses, can smell at least 1,000 times better than humans, and their brain’s devotion to analyzing smell can never be put on pause. Therefore, if you see Theo sniffing the air for no reason, you must know that there actually is a very valid reason. Theo will even have his own unique sense of smell compared to your neighbor’s dog, Lacey. Their nostrils will be completely different in shape, the ridge pattern, and the dimples.
Dogs such as Bloodhounds are more skilled and dominated by their noses while dogs such as Golden Retrievers only tend to utilize their sense of smell when they are on a walk or in a new environment. The air is filled with many different scents that are good and bad in the environment and your dog can smell it all, even if it doesn’t have a smell that humans can detect. Dogs can even detect cancer through their sense of smell! You will see in your dog’s nostrils that the air he breathes out will exit through the slits in his nose and the new air he breathes in will come through his receptors easily. From there, your dog’s brain will process the air into molecules through his smell receptors, helping him decipher what he is interacting with in his world. Is this smell a safe friend? Is this smell your owner? Is this smell an orange? Simply said, your dog’s sense of smell acts as a processor for the air that holds a library of information.
Encouraging the Behavior
Your dog uses their sense of smell for everything in this world and it would be a shame to repress their canine nature. There is a reason why humans use dogs on the police force and in the military to sniff out bombs and drugs. For the most part, scenting should be allowed and encouraged in your dog because it is how they interact with their world. Think about how you would feel if you could not smell the food you were about to place in your mouth. What if you smelled an ingredient that you were allergic to or an ingredient that smelled disgusting? You would not proceed with eating your meal. It is the same with dogs, except they use that process for everything they interact with.
Yet, sometimes dogs can get carried away with their sense of smell because they want to explore every little detail in the world using their olfactory receptors. It is a way of communication and understanding if they like or hate an object, animal, or person that they are confronted with. This is when you are not going to want to encourage scenting and maybe limit it. Experts suggest to train your dog to have proper manners with their exploration. Dogs will smell humans in places that are inappropriate, can take up a lot of their owner’s time by smelling everything, and can get into things that are not meant to be eaten or chewed on just because of the smell. Boundaries are important to have when you have a dog so make sure your dog knows the rules.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Anyone who owns a dog knows that a dog’s sense of smell is important. Yet, when you are in the process of getting to know your dog, don’t forget to set proper rules and boundaries. When you are on a walk with Theo, for instance, allow him to open up and explore the different smells in the air and even on the ground. This will teach him that walk time is his time for exploring the world and when it is over, it is time to resume normal life. If you see your dog smelling the air and then going after the source of the smell, you want to stop your dog and teach him that he must have boundaries with his senses. You also should not let your dog go after another person or dog and smell them profusely, unless the person or dog is okay with it.
Dogs love to smell everything that is in their reach from the subtle scent of a tree to the strong perfume of an older woman. You want to let your dog explore the world using their canine nature, but it is important to not let them get too carried away. We do live in a world that is new age and dogs do not need to use their scent in the same way as they would in the wild but they only need to use it for exploring and understanding the world they interact with each day.
Written by a Golden Retriever lover Erika Seidel
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/30/2020