Can Dogs Smell Through Glass?

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Introduction

As we know, dogs have an amazing sense of smell, and they are usually able to smell around things and under things making most smells easily detectable. When we ask the question of whether dogs can smell through glass, the simple answer is yes, but it is a little bit more complicated than that. It all depends on what we mean by glass exactly and how this glass is being used. We will now take a look at this in more detail.

Signs Dogs can Smell Through Glass

Dogs that catch a scent will often quickly run to try and chase it down or become a little bit more frantic to try and get at it. 

Your dog is likely to start quickly inhaling and exhaling while their nose is on the ground or in the air. If a dog has been trained to smell something, then they will begin to exhibit certain behaviors, such as sitting next to the scent that they have located. 

Other signs that dogs may display are barking, staring, sniffing, tilting the head, and acting alert. Additionally, dogs are able to interpret human eye and head movements, and this in combination with their sense of smell enables them to be able to smell through some objects.

When sniffing through glass, you may find your dog becomes frustrated as the scent is dulled and they can't quite get to it. This often leads to pawing at the glass and scratching behaviors, even if they don't normally behave like this. 

Body Language

Some signs your dog may give while trying to smell through glass include:
  • Staring
  • Barking
  • Head tilting
  • Whining
  • Scratching

Other Signs

More signs to watch for when your dog is smelling through glass are:
  • Pawing at the glass
  • Frantic digging

History Behind Dogs Smelling Through Glass

So you think you know your dog’s nose, as you are the one that sees its capabilities each day. Yes, it is true that dogs have superb noses, but did you know that they can do more than just sniff out something yummy that may be hiding inside your bag?

Although historically dogs only needed to sniff through glass when we created civilisations and buildings, they have certainly adapted well. 

Research conducted in the past explored the reasons why, what, and how dogs are able to smell so well. Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses where we only have 6 million. Additionally, the part of a brain that is linked to smell is 40 times larger in a dog than in a human.

It is also the case that dogs are like detectives when it comes to their olfactory abilities, as with their noses, they can detect diseases such as cancer, locate dangerous substances, predict the weather, and even tell the time. It is no wonder that they can smell through objects such as glass.

Science Behind Dogs Smelling Through Glass

Dogs are able to smell through glass. However, if a glass container is airtight, such as a mason jar, a vacuum has been created and no air is able to escape. Therefore, no odor can escape and a dog is not able to detect a scent. The same applies to a metal container, but if we consider a plastic container, these are porous, so no matter how it has been sealed, odors are able to escape though holes that are microscopic in size. 

With all of this in mind, it is worth noting that a container probably needs to be sealed in conditions such as a laboratory for a dog to not be able to pick up on any scents from it. Otherwise, odors can linger on the surface of the glass, and these will be able to be smelled by a dog.

A real example of this is related to search dogs that were used to find gravesites related to a civil war. These dogs, knowns as cadaver dogs, were able sniff out remains from a small drop of blood or a gas leak from a pinhole that is far underground. Where bomb dogs are concerned, they are able to identify a fingerprint that has been left behind by somebody that has touched material linked to bomb-making.

Training a Dog to Smell Through Glass

We now know that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but how do we make this work to suit us? Well, we need to be able to teach the dog which scent is important and which scent will give the dog the reward they want. Similar to how dogs can find a toy that has been hidden, they will do their best and work hard to locate a target odor, as to them, that translates to a reward such as food or a game.

There are two ways to get a dog to recognize a specific odor. One way is called operant conditioning, and the other is called classical conditioning. We will take a look at both of these options and how they can be used in conjunction with each other.

Classical Conditioning - This is simply when the specific odor is directly linked with something that the dog loves, for example, a treat. In some cases, puppies that are raised for jobs related to scent detection are given their meals in such a way so that they can smell the specific odor as they eat. A way that this can be done is by using a drill to make small holes in the food dish that a dog uses. Place the odor underneath the dish each time you feed the dog. This method will then create a strong association between the scent, and it is a method that can be used with adult dogs too.

Operant Conditioning – This method trains a dog to ‘operate’ an environment to produce a reward. A dog will learn that their behavior (for example, to sit) where the scent has been found produces a reward. It is an easy method if the steps to the goal are broken down in a way that the dog can grasp what you are after.

How to React to Your Dog Trying to Sniff Through Glass:

  • Expect them to be frustrated when they don't smell anything.
  • Open the container if the contents are not harmful.