When there's a bad smell in the room, it's often the poor dog who takes the blame. However, the dog frequently remains blissfully unaware of the nasal offense caused and continues dozing as if nothing has happened. It might be that the dog is completely innocent and is merely the scapegoat for a human fart. But could it also be that dogs don't smell there own farts and are oblivious to them?
This is a deeper question than it first appears. Of course, with their super-sensitive snouts, dogs can smell farts (no matter from whom they originate from), but the brain-teaser is whether dogs are aware of a concept of 'self' and, therefore, if the fart belongs to them or not.
Signs a Dog Smells Their Own Fart
Dogs have a hugely sensitive sense of smell, and just as we found some gaseous emissions repulsive, so can dogs. A sensitive dog may even get up and walk away from the bad smell, which is positive proof that dogs can detect the sulfurous odor of flatulence.
If you were to watch a dog who has just smelt there own fart, you would see the dog sniff the air with flared nostrils. They may flehmen, which is to say that they peel back the upper lip so that scent particles can reach the vomeronasal organ. The latter is a set of chemoreceptors that are especially sensitive to odor particles and can give the dog a much more details scent picture of what the smell is, how fresh it is, and who it originated from.
Depending on the dog's diet and how bad the flatulence smells (highly fermentable diets contain a high percentage of cereals or soy produce worse smells and great volumes of odor), the dog may decide to leave the area for some fresh air. Some dogs will amble slowly away, almost as if they're not trying to draw attention to themselves, whilst others can run away as if assaulted. Indeed, the latter does reinforce the debate about whether the dog perceives the bad smell as 'self' or something from someone else.
History of Dogs Smelling Their Own Farts
A large part of the success of dogs as human companions is their adaptability over generations to develop different skills. There are watchdogs who are naturally protective, sighthounds who can point out moving prey, and there are scent hounds who can track down quarry using their nose.
All dogs have a hugely sensitive sense of smell. In fact, the average dog's sense of smell is a million times more sensitive than a human's. It makes sense that for time immemorial dogs have been able to smell their own farts.
Indeed, some breeds will be even more acutely aware of the odor than others. Just how useful this is we can only wonder, but when dogs live with such smelly beings as people, with our perfumes, air fresheners, and tobacco smoke, smelling farts may not be their greatest problem.
Science of Dogs Smelling Their Own Farts
The dog's body language tells us if they have smelt their own fart or not. If the dog sniffs the air and walks away, as long as they genuinely are the culprit (and not a scapegoat) then you can be sure they picked up the flatulent malodor.
However, did the dog realize it was their odor or just something that mysteriously appeared in the air? This hinges on whether dogs have a perception of 'self' or not. Most behaviorists err towards the opinion that dogs lack a sense of self. They reached this conclusion after carefully devised experiments designed to highlight if any animal has self-awareness.
An example of such a test is showing the animal their reflection in the mirror. Most dogs react as if an unfamiliar dog is staring back at them. They may growl or play bow to invite a game, but generally, do not show self-examinatory behaviors such as people do when looking in the mirror. In short, most dogs do not register this is their reflection.
To take things a step further, scientists painted a red spot on the subject's forehead. Primates and dolphins, when regarding their reflection with a red mark on, try to touch or rub their own heads as if to confirm what they're seeing is correct. This shows a degree of self-awareness.
However, apply the same red dot to a dog's forehead and on seeing their reflection, they fail to investigate the mark. Hence, researchers conclude, dogs lack self-awareness.
Hence we may conclude that whilst a dog can physically smell the odor of their own fart, they remain blissfully ignorant that the smell came from them.
Training a Dog to Smell Their Own Farts
In theory, it's possible to train a dog to smell a fart on cue, so that it looks as if they smelt their own offering. Training allows you to make the dog look up suddenly, get up and slink away as if escaping a bad smell. When accompanied by some human theatrics, such as fanning the air and pinching the nose, it can make it appear as if the dog farted and is walking away in disgust.
Reward-based training methods will get this effect. First, start by getting the dog to look up sharply. You can do this by making a sudden high-pitched noise. As the dog looks up, say, "Yes" in an excited voice and give them a treat. Repeat this a few times and when the dog is regularly responding by looking up, add a cue word such as "Fart."
Repeat this. When you can say the cue word and the dog looks up sharply, you have put this action on cue.
Now it's time to add in the walking away part. Once the dog looks up on cue, use a treat to lure them forward a few steps. Then say "yes", and give the treat. Keep repeating this, so that the dog adds the two actions (looking up and walking away) together for the one command "Fart."
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 05/08/2018, edited: 04/06/2020