Any and every dog owner has been in this situation: you look down to find your doggo obsessively licking your arm or your leg. When you shoo them away, you notice a cut or a scrape that you hadn't even realized you had. If you didn't know, how did your dog?
It turns out, your pooch's wicked sense of smell comes in handy here. Dogs can smell the smallest of physiological changes in humans. In fact, dogs can smell in parts per trillion. That means that if there's an open wound (a cut, a scrape, or something worse), your dog can smell it before you even see it.
But it goes far past just the scent. If your dog does smell a wound, they're going to be driven by instinct to clean it. Dogs lick their own wounds because their saliva has antimicrobial and clotting properties. When they see or smell a wound on you, they're aiming to help your wound heal faster.
If you want to know more about how your dog will behave when they notice your wound, how they'll try to clean it, studies that support these theories, and how you can train your pup to leave your wound be, read on!
Signs Your Dog Smells Your Cut
If your dog notices that you have a wound, a cut, or a scrape on you, they are certainly not going to just leave the situation be. Licking a wound is an instinctual reaction to injury for dogs. Instinctually, licking a wound is biologically based, but it serves a purpose for dogs, too.
When a dog licks a wound of their own, they're using their resources to clean out a wound and prevent infection. It doesn't always work the same way for people, but your dog doesn't know that! If you notice your pup paying a lot of attention to you our a certain part of your body, it's likely they have probably sniffed out a wound on you.
Speaking of sniffing, if they won't keep their nose away from you or your body parts, they are probably scouting for that wound they smell. Obsessive licking is another dead giveaway that your dog smells something on you. If you notice your pup won't stop licking your arm, leg, or another body part, give yourself a check. It's probable they've found a cut that needs some attention!
Your doggo might notice your wound or cut before you even know you have it. If you think your dog is acting weird, take a look at the signs they are giving you.
History of Dogs Smelling Our Cuts
Dogs sniffing and licking wounds have been found to be both an instinctual and learned behavior that starts at birth. Since canines came to be, the mothers begin licking their pups just moments after birth. That means that some of a dog's first interaction involves licking.
There's a reason your dog won't stop obsessively licking or sniffing your cuts and scrapes, and it has to do with preventing infection.
According to scientists at the veterinary school of medicine at the University of California, at Davis, canine saliva was found to kill both E. Coli and S. Canis bacteria. These two pathogens are prevalent in causing infections in newborn pups. So, when a mother dog licks her young, that saliva is used to kill those two pathogens, effectively protecting the pups against disease.
Science Behind Your Dog Smelling Your Cut
It's common knowledge that dogs in the wild are considered pack animals. Think of their ancestors - wolves! These animals are always working within their pack and protecting members of their clan.
Domesticating dogs doesn't change that pack mentality. When you're part of a dog's group, you're set up to be fiercely protected - even from infection. Because dogs have retained the pack mentality they're governed by in the wild, they consider you part of their group.
Because of this, it's only natural that your dog will want to care for you, heal you, and keep you well - they do care about you, but keeping you healthy is also good for the pack (you provide the food for the pack, after all). Caring for your wounds, sniffing out your cuts, and licking you to heal you is just part of the pack mentality.
Training Your Dog to Leave Your Cuts Alone
If you don't want your dog to lick and sniff at your open wounds obsessively (and trust us - you don't, it can lead to infection in humans), training them to abide by certain basic commands is going to be helpful in these endeavors.
Make sure your dog is trained and ready to abide by commands like "no," "leave it," and "stop." That way, if instinct takes over and they sniff out a wound and move toward "healing" it with their magic saliva, a swift "no" can keep them away.
Crate training your dog is helpful here, too. If your dog is having a hard time leaving you be while you clean and heal your wounds - without their help, let them know it's time to wait in their crate until you're done. This shouldn't feel like punishment. Make sure that they feel like their crate is their haven. Keep it comfortable and safe so that they enjoy spending time in it.
In the end, your dog is really just trying to help, so don't be too upset if they are having a hard time kicking instinct and not leaving your cuts and scrapes alone. They might even help you find wounds you didn't know you had so you can treat them quicker!
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 03/19/2018, edited: 04/06/2020