4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Family Members?



4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Family Members?


Dogs can sniff out even the faintest of smells. Whether it’s sniffing out illegal substances or simply a tasty treat that’s hidden away, it seems to be their superpower. But, can they use it for recognition?  

This leads us to ask exactly what can dogs smell and why are their noses so powerful? In this article, we will take a look at if they are able to sniff out their own family members.


Signs Dogs Can Smell Family Members

Your dog’s wiggling nose shows you that they have a powerful nose for scents. Family members provide praise, attention, and food while your dog takes in the family members’ scents. In turn, this means these scents are associated with good things, and therefore your dog will have formed an attachment to your family’s scents.

Think about when you or another member of the family walk into a room, your dog will look up and wiggle their nose at you. This shows that they recognize who you are and usually even before they've even set their eyes on you. Occasionally, dogs look like they smile at their owners/families, and this is probably just them opening their mouth so they can smell more of what they like.

No doubt you’ll have come across moments where your dog is snuggled up in the family’s dirty washing, and this is all related to the fact they are attached to the scent of the family and take comfort from it. After all, everyone feels secure and calmer when they are surrounded by what they love.

Signs that reveal that your dog knows the scent of your family are things such as head tilting, staring, smiling action, coming to you when you enter a room, and acting alert.   

Body Language

Some clues that your pooch can smell their family include:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Head Tilting
  • Wag Tail
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

More signs your dog likes to smell family are:

  • Turning To Look When A Family Member Comes In The Room
  • Laying In Dirty Laundry
  • Twitching Their Nose

History Behind Dogs Smelling Family Members


Evolution has enabled a dog’s sense of smell to develop, as it’s crucial for survival. Approximately 15,000 years ago, it was believed that evolution changed dogs. Wolf pups were taken by hunter-gatherers and raised for protection and hunting.

As time went on, dogs have become domesticated and fulfilled the roles given to them by humans. As evolution proceeded up until today, dogs continued to fulfill these roles and some of these roles are linked to relying on scents.

Many people believe that as dogs have become domesticated, they’ve also become more aware of human behavior and their social skills have improved. In turn, they are now less attuned to their instincts or survival strategies.

Dogs have learned to link human scents with positive outcomes. This association has created a strong bond between a dog and its family, and the smell of a dog’s family has become a pleasant scent for a dog, even though dogs don’t generally like the smell of humans. Studies have also highlighted that dogs do react favorably to the smell of their owner and their family. A dog is able to recognize the scent of their own family.

Science Behind Dogs Smelling Family Members


A dog’s sense of smell is a lot more powerful than ours. Unlike humans, a dog is able to smell in each individual nostril and therefore has the ability to perceive the world through their nose.

Studies have been conducted to see if a dog can remember the scent of its owner. One particular study looked at the emotional reactions of a dog when they were provided with the scent of their owner compared to the scent of someone else. Brain waves of 12 different breeds of dogs were collected as dogs were exposed to these scents. The results revealed that the response that the dogs displayed were the strongest when they smelled the scents of their owners or humans that were familiar to them.

This goes to show that dogs have a stronger connection with the humans that they know - their family. This is probably related to the fact that they associate the scents given off by their family with play, affection, safety, food, and praise.

Training a Dog to Smell Family Members


Trainers use a dog’s natural smelling instinct to concentrate on signals and commands. Through repetition, the scent for a reward becomes linked to a command given by a human. When you praise your dog, your dog takes in your scent and the fact that they are given a reward/treat, and this then creates a positive feeling that is consequently stamped on your dog’s brain.

Those that own sporting dogs use scent-related work to enhance their bond with them, as well as to teach a dog how to be an ally when it comes to hunting. In the beginning, training is related to understanding basic commands, and this then moves on to locating objects in return for a reward, such as food and praise.

Next, a dog needs to be taken to a place where there are no distractions so that they can begin training. Dogs need to be trained with games that enable them to distinguish between different scents. Here’s a game that you can teach your dog:

  • Start the game by holding an item in each hand.

  • Hold your hands near to the dog’s face.

  • Once your dog picks the hand that has the scent that you want them to detect, reward the dog.

This game can then move on to games that are related to scent discrimination. In these games, a scent needs to be detected but it is hidden among other scents. With time, your dog’s detection skills will improve, and these games will need to move on to a larger scale. Eventually, your dog should be able to locate a scent in a field as if they are part of a hunting team.

When your dog does something that shows you they recognize your smell and the smell of your family, praise them so that they positively associate with your smell and your family’s.

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Written by Charlotte Ratcliffe

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 04/20/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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