4 min read


What Can Dogs Detect?



4 min read


What Can Dogs Detect?


Dogs seem to be very intuitive animals. You may notice that sometimes when people do not like or are fearful of dogs, the dog responds differently. He may act nervous or closed off, even though the scared person may not have said anything. After a long and stressful day or after a heartbreak, dogs can seem super comforting. Can they read minds? What exactly can dogs detect? 

It is fun to know what dogs can detect because it helps form a stronger bond between human and dog. It can also help in teaching dogs new skills. 


Signs of a Dog Detecting Something

There are some things that dogs naturally detect based on their evolutionary instincts. There are also many things that a dog can be trained to detect. Based on minute facial expression, body language, and smell, dogs can detect many things. They can even detect the rise or fall of heart rate, which helps them understand what a person is feeling, especially when they are feeling fearful or calm. 

When someone is fearful around a dog, the dog can use his keen sense of smell to detect more production of sweat. Different breeds and dogs with various personalities react to a person's fear differently. Some territorial dogs may get aggressive or start barking. Some dogs may even try to comfort a person's fear.

With a great ability to read into body language, dogs can often tell when we're sad. You'll be able to tell if your dog knows you're sad based on his response. In order to provide comfort, a dog will lean into his human for a hug and cuddles. 

Some dogs are trained to detect specific things such as dangerous weapons, drugs, or missing people. They can also be trained to have different responses to these instances. Some dogs will pull on a person's jacket, ring a bell, or make a specific barking sound when they detect a specific item. Some dogs can even be trained to detect blood and glucose levels in people with diabetes. 

Body Language

Here are signs you might notice when your dog detects something:

  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Scratching
  • Sniffing
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

Some other signs you may notice when your dog detects something include:

  • Pulling On Your Clothes
  • A Specific Noise Or Reaction That You Have Taught
  • Physical Pointing

History of Dogs Detecting Things


The loving relationship between humans and dogs began 15,000 years ago when humans and wolves first paired up. Dogs are descendants of grey wolves. Their budding friendship progressed the more wolves and humans helped each other. Wolves helped humans hunt. They also provided extra protection against local predators of humans. 

Humans also helped wolves. They fed the wolves their leftover food and provided a different type of protection with their skills and abilities with weapons. The bond grew over the years and grey wolves began to evolve into the dogs we know and love today. 

Many traits of wolves remain in dogs today. For example, their sense of smell and ability to see in the dark are both qualities that remained through the thousands of years of evolution. Dogs also inherited their ability to detect specific things. They largely use their sense of smell to do this. They also use their ability to read facial expressions and body language. 

Over time, dogs were trained to detect more and more specific and specialized things. The typical dog is able to detect more things than you might think. Your dog even has the ability to detect just a drop of blood in a bucket of water. Male dogs can also detect when a female dog is in heat, even from a great distance. 

The Science of Dogs Detecting Things


Some people feel like dogs have a 6th sense because of their innate ability to respond to their surroundings, even if hints are subtle. Our minuscule (and obvious) facial expressions tell dogs a lot about how they should behave. Just like we can read our dog's behavior and understand what they might be feeling, they can read ours. 

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. This is their primary source of information gathering and detection abilities. Dogs can smell things from great distances. They can even smell things that are buried up to 40 feet underground. Humans have about 6 million olfactory receptors that help them smell. That's a lot! But dogs have up to 30 million olfactory receptors!

Training Dogs to Detect Things


Though it may seem tedious and difficult at first, dogs actually love being trained and taught new things. Training a dog strengthens the bond between dog and human. When we do activities with our dogs, we are able to get to know them in new ways. Training a dog helps humans learn more about the specific needs and quirks about their dog's personality. This reveals things that may otherwise not be known. It also helps form new habits for the dog. 

Dogs are trained best at a younger age. However, if a dog is older, training is not a lost cause. With consistent, firm, and loving training sessions, a dog can learn to detect many new things. 

There are so many benefits of training dogs. It helps stretch them intellectually so that they can become smarter and better in social situations. In order to train a dog, it is important to be very consistent throughout the whole process. It is also important to never raise your voice, hit, or heavily scold your dog. This can be difficult. Sometimes dogs just act up in really inconvenient ways. However, ignoring the negative behaviors and praising the positive behaviors is the best way to train dogs. 

Showing positive praise comes in many forms. One simple thing is showing praise by body language. Opening your arms and smiling wide show your dog that you are pleased. Providing positive praise in a nice tone of voice is another way your dog can tell if you are happy with his behavior. 

The complication of training varies depending on what you want your dog to detect. Training dogs to "track" or sniff out specific things comes naturally because dogs have such a powerful sense of smell. Some dogs can detect when a seizure is about to happen. Other dogs can even detect cancer! 

These service dogs require specialized and intense training. These dogs find great satisfaction in providing care and support to humans. 

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Safety Tips for Dog Detectoin

  1. If your dog is fearful, become alert to make sure there is no threat.
  2. Pay attention to what your dog is telling you.

Written by a Corgi lover Simone DeAngelis

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/08/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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