Can Dogs Smell DNA?

  • Home >
  • The Daily Wag! >
  • Senses >
  • Can Dogs Smell DNA?
0 Stories
0 Votes

Introduction

You know better than anyone just how powerful your dog's nose is. It's evident when he or she sprints across the house the second you *quietly* open your favorite bag of chips. They smell it immediately! More than that, though, it's likely you understand that your dog can smell out insane things like illness, cancer, drugs, bombs, and more! It's crazy what dogs can use their noses to sniff out. So, it's probably not entirely insane to suggest that dogs can smell DNA, right? 

Right. 

The idea of doggos being able to sniff out DNA isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, in fact, to some degree, it's true. No, your dog probably can't smell down to the molecular level and get the precise scent of your DNA, but your dog can recognize you in ways no one else could, based on scent alone. 

Your body, your cells - all your internal and external parts - have a unique scent, and your dog can smell every bit of it. Think of it this way, your dog can sniff out all the ingredients, part-by-part, of your favorite dish, down to the very flour that constructs the pasta you're making. So, no, your dog can't necessarily smell your DNA, but they can smell your unique, part-by-part smells that make up your body, and they can recognize it from miles away. 

Check out our guide below to get a better idea of how your dog can sniff out your scent, what makes their noses so powerful, and how you can train your dog to capitalize on their sniffing abilities. 

Signs Your Dog Can Determine Your Unique Smell

While it's not exactly correct to say that dogs can smell you on a molecular level, or sniff out your exact DNA scent, it's not too far off to say that dogs can determine you on a part-by-part basis solely considering your unique scent. 

Scientists have determined, through dog-related tests, that even people with identical DNA (twins, for example) have their own unique, microscopically-different smells. The beautiful thing? Your dog can tell that difference, and you apart from someone with identical DNA, even when a DNA test cant - but more on that later. 

There are certain ways your dog will let you know that they recognize your particular scent above other smells, and they'll do so in some pretty odd ways. Your dog will likely form strong, emotional attachments to your objects and will obsessively sniff or lick them. Your dog will also probably know when you're coming home before you even get to the driveway just based off your unique smell! Expect howling, barking, jumping up, and general excitement when you walk through the door.

Body Language

Here's some body language cues your dog is sniffing out your special scent:
  • Alert
  • Jumping up
  • Howling
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing
  • Tail up
  • Licking
  • Nose wrinkled

Other Signs

Here are a few other signs your dog might be giving you to let you know they recognize your scent and individual, cell-sized smells:
  • Showing special attention to one of your personal items
  • Obsessive licking and sniffing of your objects
  • Howling or barking before you get into the house
  • Staying by your side

The History of Dogs Smelling DNA

When it comes to the idea of dogs being able to determine the differences in people due to their DNA, it's not the most far-fetched concept. According to National Geographic, a  recent study in the Czech Republic determined that some dogs were able to distinguish between identical sets of twins in ways that even DNA tests could not. 

In the experiment, dogs sniffed samples from sets of both identical and fraternal twins between the ages of 5 and 13, as well as samples from unrelated people as well. In each trial, the dogs were able to match the twins' scents and distinguish them from one another, suggesting that even people with identical genes have their own unique scent. 

While your dog might not be able to smell your particular, molecular DNA scent, they are able to determine the differences in people that even DNA tests cannot.

The Science Behind DNA Sniffing

So, if your dog can't smell you on a molecular level - in other words, smell your particular DNA - what exactly are they smelling, and further, what gives you your unique scent? 

Every part of your body - your internal organs, your blood, your skin - give off certain scents. While you might not be able to smell some of these things (like your organs, for example, that would be weird), your dog definitely can. Each person gives off their own unique pheromone molecules that are detected by dogs' olfactory senses. 

And while your dog is smelling a million miles a minute, he or she is equipped with a sensory-leading brain that doesn't mix up all the other odor molecules in the air.

Training Your Dog to Recognize Specific Smells

Your dog is already pretty well-equipped to be a wonderful sniffer, but a little training never hurt nobody - especially if you're interested in training your dog to sniff out and alert you to specific things like illness, cancer, drugs, bombs, and more! Dogs have naturally incredibly acute noses, so you won't have to train them to sniff something out, just how to alert you consistently to a specific smell. 

We recommend enrolling your pup in a specialized training program if you're wanting your dog to sniff out particular things like illnesses and illegal substances, because those trainers will have legal access to things like cancer tissues, certain strains of illness, and drugs. 

If you're looking to train your pup to look for something a bit less intense, though, like finding things that smell like you, for example, you can certainly take care of this on your own. The trick with dogs is more than just introducing the scent to them. 

First, you'll need to introduce the idea of play as a reward. Make sure you're consistently playing with your dog's favorite toy as an act of reward to get your dog accustomed to understanding that playing with that toy is the reward for doing something correctly. 

Next, make sure the toy smells like, or is filled with, the specific scent you want your dog to hunt down. Make sure your dog is well acquainted with this scent, then practice hiding the toy from your dog. When they find the toy, reward them with play time. Repeat this process until your dog understands that they're seeking out that particular scent and that when they do, they'll get the reward they want.

How to React if Your Dog Knows Your Smell:

  • Don't punish your dog for forming strong attachments to things that smell like you.
  • Allow your dog to sniff and lick things that smell like you.
  • Consider training your pup to not bark or alert the neighbors when you arrive home and they smell you from the driveway.