Dog senses are different from human senses. For example, a dog's eyesight is better at detecting motion than a human's, but this comes at the price of seeing fewer colors (although dogs aren't truly colorblind.) Another difference is their sense of smell, which is a million times more sensitive than a human's. In practical terms, this enables a dog to sniff out one teaspoon of sugar in a body of water the size of two Olympic swimming pools.
Indeed, when it comes to sniffing, dogs have some pretty odd habits. All that butt sniffing is pretty strange, for one thing. So what about smells that are pleasant to us, such as perfume? Can dogs smell perfume and, if so, how does it affect them?
Signs a Dog can Smell Perfume
When sniffing, you may notice the dog adopts a specific body posture. The tail is often a giveaway, depending on the breed of dog. When actively following a scent, a straight tail tends to be carried partially raised, and if the smell is an interesting one, the dog may well wag to show their pleasure.
An interesting addition to the classic dog sniffing the air is flehmen. This involves raising the upper lip to expose the vomeronasal organ to smells in the air. The vomeronasal organ is an extremely sensitive scent organ, lined with sensory cells that are particularly sensitive to heavy, moisture-borne particles. You may well see this and think the dog is snarling because of the raised lip and bared teeth, whereas they're literally just tasting the air.
Different dog breeds have different sense specializations. Thus, dogs such as Beagles and Bloodhounds are called scent hounds, precisely because of their superior sense of smell. When a dog such as these smells perfume, it is likely to overwhelm their sense of smell and throw a dampening blanket over their ability to detect more subtle odors. As such, the dog may pull away from the perfume, turn their head aside, or even lick their lips as if stressed.
- Head tilting
- Pointing to indicate the direction of the scent
- Lip licking
- Yawning, as if anxious
- Pulling away
History of Dogs Smelling Perfume
However, early people were hunter-gatherers and on the lookout for nature's bounty in the form of ripe fruit. Obviously, rotting meat smells very different from the sweet fragrance of juicy berries, which meant a divergence in how sensitive to different registers of smells dogs and humans became.
Over successive generations those dogs who survived would be those who were most successful at finding food for them and their offspring. Whilst the factors such as being fast, strong, or fierce spring to mind first when considering survival, it's also true that the sense of smell plays an important part.
Indeed, further evidence of this is the tracking abilities of dogs. The ability to follow tiny amounts of scent molecules to follow prey meant the nasal organs and part of the brain linked to smell becoming ever more developed. The downside of this for the dog is that smells which seem pleasant to us, such as perfume, may not only seem unattractive to a dog but can be so strong to a canine sense of smell that it causes 'nose blindness' for other odors.
Science of a Dog Smelling Perfume
As the scent trail gets stronger, the dog slows down and spends more time inhaling deeply. The aim of this is to sample as many scent molecules as possible to get as much information as possible. Indeed, a dog can identify a whole different dimension by sniffing, as they can tell how old the scent is, whether it was left by a male or female, and who the individual is.
With this in mind, it's not hard to understand that perfume can overwhelm a dog's sense, and may actually be unpleasant for them.
Training a Dog to Smell Perfume
To do this involves dabbing some perfume on an old cloth or T-shirt. Show this to the dog and praise them with an enthusiastic "Yes" when they sniff it. Follow this up by rewarding the dog with a treat. Repeat this several times. When the dog is readily approaching the cloth, add a cue word so that the action is labeled. Let's say you decide to use the name of the perfume, such as "Rose."
Test out how well the dog has learned the cue word by placing an unscented cloth in one spot and the perfumed cloth in another. Then say "Rose" and praise them when they select the perfumed one.
Take this a stage further still by placing the cloth just out of sight, behind a bucket or piece of furniture. With the dog in a different room (so they can't see what you're doing), drag the rose-scented cloth along the floor to the hding place.
Bring the dog back into the room and say "Rose". Hopefully, they will put their nose to the ground and start following the appropriate scent trail to find the rose-scented cloth.
Safety Tips for Using Perfume Around Dogs:
Be sensitive to your dog's extreme smelling abilities.
If your pooch really seems to hate a scent, try to avoid using it.
Use any perfume lightly and avoid dousing yourself or an area of the house.