Can Dogs Smell Through Airtight Containers?

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Introduction

We all know how powerful a dog's nose is, and watching our pup's put their noses into action is a remarkable sight. But how powerful is your dog's nose really? Is it basically a superpower that allows them to sniff out scents in the most difficult of locations - for instance, in airtight containers? 

What do you think - can dogs smell in airtight containers? Read on to find out!

Signs Dogs Can (or Cannot) Smell into Airtight Containers

Although man's best friend tends to have a pretty incredible ability to sniff things out, dogs cannot smell though airtight, vacuum sealed containers. Pups can smell under things, around things, into things and even things underwater. However, airtight containers are vacuum sealed, keeping any air from escaping. If no air can escape, neither can any odor. 

Whether your pup can smell through a container also depends on the material the container is made out of. For instance, an airtight, plastic container is still a porous container, unlike glass. This means that odors will eventually seep through the material through tiny microscopic holes, allowing your pooch to catch a scent. But containers made from metal or glass are non-porous and will keep all odors inside when vacuum sealed.

However, it is important to remember that we leave behind scents on the outside of containers that are left over from our hands. So, your pooch may be able to pick up on scents that way. 

Body Language

Here are some cues your pup might be giving you if they are picking up a scent:
  • Alert
  • Sniffing
  • Raise ears
  • Body freezing
  • Head turning
  • Tense jaw
  • Back hair on edge
  • Head bobbing
  • Ears up

Other Signs

Here are some other cues your pup might be giving you. Make sure you check your dog out for these body language hints to get a better idea of what they are smelling:
  • Obsessive sniffing
  • Licking the jar
  • Nose to the ground, following a scent
  • Asking for your attention
  • Refusing to move away from the jar

The History of Dogs Smelling Airtight Containers

As man's best friend, humans have worked with dogs over thousands of years to take advantage of their natural toolkit.

For instance, bomb-sniffing and detection dogs first made their appearance in the 1940s to help detect German mines in North Africa. Not even 30 years later, our pups were being used to detect other illegal substances like explosives, marijuana, heroin, and even currency. Dogs have been helping law enforcement agencies for years, and in turn have helped protect us, signaling to their handler when they find something interesting.  

Dogs have also been trained to detect pests and agricultural products so they do not cross the border into the United States. We have also seen dogs being used to help with pest control and management. Pests like bed bugs are among some of the pests dogs have been trained to detect by using their incredible noses. At this point, our pooches just keep getting better and better!

The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Airtight Containers

Your dog's nose is designed for a smelling ability that is far superior to that of any human. The ability to smell (aka olfaction) is a dog's primary sense. Dog's had to rely on their senses of smell thousands of years ago when they needed to hunt for survival.

Your pooch has nearly 300 million olfactory receptors on its nose. On the other hand, we humans have about 5 million! 

Even further, each of your pup's olfactory cells has way more cilia (or tiny hairs) than humans do. Dogs have about 100- 150 on each cell, while humans have about 6-8! Dogs' noses are so finely-tuned they can even smell underwater.  The vomeronasal organ runs along the bottom of dog noses and connects directly to the olfactory lobe with about 600 nerve bundles. 

To put the icing on the cake, dogs are equipped with far greater brain-development for analyzing smells (about 40 times greater than human capacity). So it makes sense that your pup relies on its nose more than any other sense - they're basically super-canines!

Even further, drug dogs are trained specifically for using their noses in precarious situations. The special training given by the DEA, TSA, and local law enforcement agencies gives any pooch the ability to use its natural superpower for detecting drugs, explosives, or even currency amongst the trickiest of conditions.

Training Scent Detection Dogs

Dogs are capable of being trained to track down specific odors, such as cocaine, currency, or even cancer. Dogs are taught with positive reinforcement and rewarded for identification. Rewards vary depending on the dog, but range from treats to play time. 

Training a scent detection dog takes several months and focuses on teaching the dog to identify and find specific odors. Dogs are taught to confidentially search using scent association and search patterns (and obviously some rewards used every step of the way). 

Labradors, German Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois are the most common types of dogs used for scent detection. These breeds maintain a steady temperament, in addition to also having a strong prey drive which helps motivate search and find behavior.

Safety Tips for Scent Detecting:

  • Talk to your vet to determine whether your pup would be a good candidate for scent detection.
  • Pay attention to the signs and signals your dog is giving you.
  • Work with a trainer or animal behaviorist if you want them to learn how to sniff strategically.
  • Reward your dog for positive reactions to scent identification.
  • Never leave your pup unsupervised.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog's Amazing Sniffer!