Can Dogs Smell Ashes?

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Cremation is becoming an increasingly popular method of handling corpses, for both humans and animals. This has created more instances than ever before of people wondering whether dogs can smell ashes. While technically ashes can be of anything, the question of dogs smelling them are usually about ashes of (previously) living things. It’s a well-known fact that dogs are excellent sniffers. They can pick up scents that humans never could. So, do you think dogs can smell ashes? Read on to find out.
Introduction of Can Dogs Smell Ashes?

Signs of Dogs Smelling Ashes

It is pretty incredible that a dog is able to pick up on such minute differences in scent, especially in something that has been burned like ashes. In comparison to the human sense of smell, a dog’s highly developed sense of smell borders on a superpower. 

A dog’s world is quite different than ours. They sense things we humans cannot. What they lack in brain function and even eyesight, they make up quite brilliantly for with their keen sense of smell.

You can observe a range of signs that dogs can smell ashes. The more concentrated the ashes, the easier it is for the dog to pick up the scent and react. Scattered ashes will naturally lose any scent they have more quickly than, say, those that are in a container. An urn is the most common container for ashes.

If you notice, a dog will sniff, whine or pant when smelling ashes. If the dog smells the ashes of a human or dog that he knew, like a previous owner or another pet, you may notice the dog sitting quietly near the ashes. In some cases, this can also disturb the dog.

Body Language

Here are some signs your dog may exhibit when smelling ashes:
  • Whining
  • Panting
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

Here are some more signs that your pooch can smell ashes:
  • Panting and wagging their tail
  • Sitting subdued near the ashes
  • Spending an unusually long time sniffing the ashes

History of Dogs Smelling Ashes

History of Can Dogs Smell Ashes?

Historically, dogs have been considered exceptional in detecting scents. Since World War I, dogs have been used to smell things like drugs, explosives, and ashes. More recently, the cases of dogs smelling ashes have been in the urban setting. From smelling human ashes to ashes of other animals, dogs can pick up the scent in different situations. 

People have reported their pets sitting near an urn containing the ashes of their previous owner. Dogs are also known to pick up the scent of ashes of other dogs. Despite domestication, their sense of smell continues to impress. In some spectacular cases, government-trained dogs have unearthed ashes in rubbles. In one such case, a dog helped recover the ashes of a woman from a house that was burnt to the ground in a California wildfire. The ashes were of the resident’s mother who had passed away earlier.

As the trend of human and pet cremation increases, an increasing number of dogs are exposed to ashes in their owner’s homes. This has created more instances of dogs smelling and reacting to ashes.

Today, everyone is familiar with the sight of specially trained dogs arriving at scenes of fire and/or crime to find ashes of someone or something. As more advancements are made in the field of scent training dogs, they are expected to go down in history as bigger heroes that help unearth ashes considered important.

Science of Dogs Smelling Ashes

Science of Can Dogs Smell Ashes?

Dogs are able to detect such minimal variations in scent due to the 300 million scent receptors in their nostrils, in addition to the ability to move both nostrils separately. With a sense of smell that is up to a 100,000 times stronger than human, it’s not surprising what your dog is capable of smelling.

It's always difficult to imagine what goes through a dogs mind when they initially smell an object, but what we do know is dogs are able to recognize familiar scents. In this case, if the ashes are from someone or something the dog that was familiar to the dog, they may be able to pick up the scent more quickly than something completely foreign.

Training Your Dog to Smell Ashes

Training of Can Dogs Smell Ashes?

Before you train your dog to smell ashes, you need to make sure whether this is a good idea. If the ashes are of a person, you want to keep them safe. The training could scatter the ashes. You also need to be clear on the objective of training your dog to smell the ashes. Can you think of a situation where you may want your dog to retrieve the ashes in case they are misplaced? 

If you do decide to train your dog, be careful when handling the ashes. You can use the basic method of positive reinforcement to train your dog, i.e. giving him a treat every time the dog finds the scent in the training room. But it’s better to go for professional training. 

If you feel that your dog is mostly sad or subdued after smelling the ashes in your home, don’t ignore them. First, let the dog know you are there for him and comfort him. Then, if possible, relocate the ashes to make it harder for your canine family member to detect and react to.

How to React When Your Dog Smells Ashes

  • Comfort your dog if he feels sad or seems disturbed on smelling the ashes
  • Try to put the ashes away so your dog can’t smell them
  • If your dog is disturbing the neighbors by detecting ashes in their home/yard, apologize and explain the situation