5 min read


Can Dogs Smell Alligators?



5 min read


Can Dogs Smell Alligators?


It is a known fact that dogs have a super sense of smell. They can pick up the scent of almost anything. What about an alligator? Would the smell of an alligator be on a dog’s list of 101 smells? 

The answer is complicated, because alligators smell of all sorts of things, like rotten meat and furry creatures. Alligators are alleged to smell like death. Dogs can easily detect these smells, but will they relate them to the cold-blooded alligator? 

Dogs are curious and they may sniff around to smell what they can’t quite understand, which could end up being an alligator. Alligators just love to make a meal of a dog, so if you are in a watery area inhabited by ‘gators, keep a close watch on your pup! 


Signs a Dog is Smelling an Alligator

Smelling an alligator could be a little more complicated for your dog because the alligators eating habits are rather diverse and affect the way they smell. Alligators eat all sorts of carrion and meaty treats. They do not make a habit of keeping clean mouths and the rotten food they have consumed remains on their teeth and their breath. The deathly aroma of the rotten food will be what your dog smells. 

This will be confusing for any dog who does not have an accurate reference in their olfactory system for the smell. They may be sensing all kinds of dead creatures and, since alligator hiss as a warning sign, a dog may think of a dead animal that can hiss and will still be unaware of an alligator. 

Your dog will be anxious to scratch in the undergrowth to find the origin of the hissing, deathly smell. If it is an alligator - known to enjoy a doggy meal - the outcome will be a sad one. The alligator is a swift, mean attacker. Unfortunately, the smell of a dog draws an alligator out of their watery hiding place to attack. 

Dogs will want to explore the area where they sense there could be an alligator and if you are in an area where alligators are known to habituate, then it would be wise to keep your dog on a leash and prevent them from rushing into the bushes or diving into the water. When you sense your dog pulling on their leash then it is time to move to higher ground and avoid an encounter with an alligator.

Body Language

Signs your dog may show when smelling an alligator include:<br/>

  • Growling
  • Alert
  • Stalking
  • Stiff Tail

Other Signs

More signs to watch for are:

  • Pulling On The Leash
  • Rushing Into The Bushes
  • Excited Behavior

The History of Dogs Smelling Alligators


Dogs have been man’s guardians for thousands of years, from back when they were first invited to join the human pack. During their evolution, they have become our best friends. This role really suits the dog and there are many occasions throughout history involving K9 hero dogs.

This story, about an alligator and a brave dog, will highlight the fact that dogs do smell the approaching danger of an alligator. It was eighty-five-year old Ruth Gay who went out for a late evening walk with her dog, Blue, an Australian Blue Heeler. Ruth lived in La Belle, Southwest Florida.

On the walk, Ruth fell, dislocated her shoulder, and broke her nose. She called out for help, but no one heard her. She was in a lot of pain and could not move. Suddenly, Blue started growling - there was something in the grass!  Ruth heard barking, growling, and yelping. She listened to Blue confront an alligator and chase it back into the water. Blue was injured, but he went on to call for help, and Ruth was rescued. 

How did Blue know he needed to protect Ruth? It was dark, and so he must have sensed and smelt something that was going to be dangerous. He acted swiftly to rescue his mistress. Blue received the Heinz 57 Variety, Hero of the year award, for his bravery! 

The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Alligators


Scientists have shown, through experiments with dogs and the scent of toys and articles they recognize, that dogs can smell a toy or a known article. Then, they find the right, hidden toy according to its visual representation. In other words, dogs have a sensory bank of smells that trigger a mental representation of what they expect to see. 

Dogs detect, differentiate and follow different smells. A conservation program, called 'Eco Dog', is using dogs in the ecological world to detect pythons, one of the cold-blooded, reptilian groups of animals. These experiments are still new in the field of using dogs' extrasensory skills.

Perhaps they could put together a program that teaches dogs to detect unwanted ‘gators in areas like golf courses and recreational parks. The ‘deathly smell’ associated with alligators and the mental imprint could be used in the detection training in the same way as pythons are detected.

Training Dogs to Smell Alligators.


Training dogs to sniff out and apprehend alligators is a risky business. Alligators are known to enjoy dogs as part of their diet. Dogs may be brave and be trained in the art of protection, but facing an adult alligator is a challenge for any canine. 

The Alligator K9 police dogs train dogs in protection, attack, and bite skills. The training is strictly based on obedience and the dogs are selected for their loyalty and obedience. Police dogs are trained to fight through anything! 

A retired police officer reported his retired German Shepherd attacked an alligator and the ‘gator left rapidly. However, it is hard to imagine a dog being able to overcome an adult alligator. Tough skin, sharp teeth, and a huge bite would put off the bravest dog. Dogs would need to be able to smell the alligator to be able to find the reptile and to alert a tracker. 

It is confusing for dogs, who imprint smells and images in their brain, to formulate the smell of the alligator. The difficulty with alligators is they smell like all kinds of different animals - and the water they feed in. Alligators are swift and mean attackers. Without provocation, they will rush out of their watery space and attack. 

The dog owner needs to be aware that alligators have a good sense of smell too, and they love to detect a dog’s smell. You may be innocently passing by with your dog when an alligator gets a whiff of one of his favorite smells. The best safety tip is to walk with your dog on a leash. A dog with a high prey drive would certainly want to rush off and investigate an interesting smell, especially if an alligator smells like all sorts of other interesting things. 

Training in obedience is vital if you are in an environment that could be a hiding place for an alligator. A dog that is going to respond without hesitation to recall and leave commands stands a better chance against an alligator.

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Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 07/13/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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