Can Dogs Smell a Skunk?

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Introduction

We know what you're thinking - if you can smell a skunk after it's sprayed, then your dog, with his or her amazing sense of smell, should be able to get a whiff of that delicious skunk juice without a problem. But how about smelling a skunk before it has sprayed? Can your dog sniff out and hunt down a skunk even before its done its defensive spraying? 

Dogs, with their superior noses, can, in fact, sniff out a skunk's peculiar scent before they've let out their nasty spray smell. But how can you tell if your dog has hunted down a skunk before it's too late? How can you teach your pup to alert you to a skunk's presence without scaring the skunk and it spraying you - or worse - your poor pup? We've got all the skunk answers you need! 

Signs Your Dog has Smelled a Skunk

Luckily, skunks give off a very peculiar scent, and we're not just talking about the famous, disgusting skunk-spray smell that so many people are unfortunately acquainted with. Skunks, in general, give off a particular smell, just like you, your dog, and other animals do. Your pup, with his or her amazing sense of smell, is likely to be able to sniff out a skunk without any issue before they spray their defensive - and hard to remove - scent. But, how can you tell?

First, your dog will probably raise his or her nose in the air and try to get a better scent. They might even put their nose to the ground and attempt to follow a trail that only they can smell. Expect lots of pauses, lots of lip licking, and of course, excessive sniffing. 

Next, if your dog has happened upon a skunk, you can expect your pup to bounce around, jump, bark, growl, or whimper like crazy. Your dog has found something of interest, and he or she will no doubt want to alert you to it. This means they'll probably paw at the ground, jump near the skunk, and bark excitedly. We hope, though, that your dog won't get too close to the skunk, startle it, and be cursed with that awful skunk stench.

Body Language

Here are a few body language cues to look out for if you suspect your dog has sniffed out a skunk:
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Howling
  • Sniffing
  • Tongue flicking
  • Whimpering
  • Nose licking
  • Nose wrinkled

Other Signs

Here are a few other cues to look out for:
  • Excited behavior
  • Chasing a trail you can't smell or see
  • Bouncing around

Historic Causes of Skunks Spraying Dogs

When it comes down to it, a skunk spray is simply a defensive mechanism for a gentle, defenseless, and nearly blind creature. Typically, the main cause of a skunk spraying your dog will be because your dog is a bit too curious for their own good. If your dog runs up on a skunk and scares it, its natural defense is going to be to spray its sulfuric acid stench from its anal glands - an unfortunate experience for your poor pup. 

Skunks will do this for others reasons, too. Sometimes skunks will spray to warn off creatures that haven't yet arrived and even claim territory. 

The Science Behind Skunk Smell

While you're probably aware that skunks give off a horrible stink, you're probably not aware of why. Skunks, though smelly, are actually one of the most misunderstood animals in the wild. What people don't often realize is that skunks are very docile, gentle, and incredibly near-sighted creatures. 

That being said, skunks don't have a lot of defensive moves when it comes to protecting themselves. This means that they have to default to their one protection - that horrible, noxious, terrible smell. This smell is actually a sulfuric acid that's fired from their anal glands, and unfortunately, not only does it smell terrible, if it gets into your pup's eyes, it can burn and irritate them! 

Skunks will try to scare off predators first by stamping their front feet, but if your doggo doesn't know how to fringe or stay away, they're definitely going to get the spray.

Training Your Dog to Fringe

If you want to train your pup to seek out skunks (they can be menaces to your lawn, garden, and more), you'll want to make sure that you insert fringe training into their hunting training as well. Fringing is a practice and method used by trainers that teaches dogs to hunt something down, but stop the hunt before they get too close to the animal. 

This is used when dogs hunt down dangerous things like snakes in the Everglades. As you know, skunks tend to spray when they're frightened. If your dog gets too close, you can say bye-bye to your sweet-smelling pup and hello to a stinky mess. 

That's where fringing comes into play. Using treats and scent-based toys, train your pup to track down a skunk-scented toy, but instead of bringing it to you or getting too close, teach your dog to give you a specified signal instead. This way, the dog will track down the scent you're looking for without coming up on the skunk, frightening it, and falling prey to the horrible skunk smell. Ensure that you're rewarding your dog with positive reinforcement when he or she correctly learns how to fringe. 

Safety Tips for Dogs Around Skunks:

  • Make sure your dog only explores cleared out areas with you.
  • Keep your dog on a leash in areas where skunks might be present.
  • Don't allow your dog to roam freely if you fear skunks will be in the area.
  • Teach your dog to leave other animals alone.
  • Train your dog to respond to basic obedience commands.