5 min read


What Can Dogs Sense?



5 min read


What Can Dogs Sense?


Sometimes, our dogs run into walls, and other times, it seems like they can tell how we are feeling and what we are thinking. Is your dog cuddling you because he is reading your mind, or is he just sensing that something is wrong? 

Do you ever wonder how your dog knows that people are outside, even if he can't see through the windows? Dogs sense things in different ways than humans. In some ways, they are more intuitive than humans. Of course, in other ways,  their senses aren't as strong. Knowing just what your dog can sense will make you love him even more!


Signs of What Your Dog Can Sense

Just like humans, dogs have the same five primary senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. What makes dogs different is that two of their senses are stronger than the rest. Dogs rely heavily on hearing and smell. Touch, sight, and taste are not as strong, though they are still very helpful. 

Dogs have a very strong sense of smell. That's why you may know that dogs can smell fear. What they are actually smelling is an increase in sweat production that occurs when we are fearful or anxious. If you're afraid of a dog, you'll notice that she may be stand-offish or unwilling to be pet. Once you relax, the dog will follow suit! 

Dogs can smell when a female dog is in heat, so if you notice your male dog acting rowdy or aggressive, he may be trying to get to a female. You'll notice this if your dog is barking more than usual or trying to escape when you take him out. 

Dogs also have a fantastic sense of hearing. Dogs can hear things that are going on up to a quarter-mile away or more. Humans can only hear about 40 - 100 feet away! That's why your dog may start barking when someone closes a car door outside of your house. 

Reading body language comes naturally to dogs. You may notice that when your body language is open and welcoming, your dog will wag his tail more and be more playful. If your face is frowning, or your body language is closed off, your dog will back away or tuck his tail between his legs. 

Body Language

These are some signs you may notice when your dog is sensing things you may not be aware of:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Listening
  • Sniffing
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

These are some other signs you may notice if your dog is sensing something:

  • Carefully Watching A New Person
  • Watching You Closely
  • Attempting To Escape And Run Somewhere Else
  • Sniffing The Air Or A Lot Of Nearby Objects

The History of Dog Senses


How did dogs get such a strong sense of smell? Where did it come from? Well, dogs were domesticated beginning around 15,000 years ago. They are descended from wolves! Man and wolf became friends based on protection and food. They helped each other survive, and over time they became friends. Over thousands of years, those wild wolves evolved into the many breeds of dogs you see today. 

Dogs acquired a strong sense of smell from their wolf ancestors. Like dogs, wolves mostly depend on their sense of smell and hearing. Wolves can smell their prey from over one mile away. This helps them know which direction to travel in. Both dogs and wolves have wet noses. Because of their wet noses, dogs and wolves are able to capture more scent particles. 

A wolf's sense of hearing is very helpful for their survival. Wolves can smell objects up to six miles away when they are in the forest and up to ten miles away if they are in open space. These keen senses were passed down to the furry, four-legged friends we love so much. 

Dogs evolved to respond to human reactions when they were a being domesticated. Dogs who were playful, comforting, or protecting were bred depending on the needs of the owner. That's why some dog breeds tend to be more territorial, and some dogs are just a ball of playtime. 

The Science of Dog Senses


Dogs can smell things from distances much further than humans can. In fact, they can even smell objects that are buried 40 feet underground. Dogs can smell so well because they have much more olfactory receptors in their noses. 

Humans have around 6 million olfactory receptors while dogs have around 300 million! When a dog is sniffing, he is inviting in all aspects of a complete smell. This helps him tell exactly what it is he is smelling. It could be a treat, it could be a friend across the street, or it could be a squirrel at the top of the tree. 

Dogs hear a whole range of sounds that humans do not hear. Dogs can hear frequencies much higher than those that humans can hear. That's why sometimes your dog may react to something you did not even know was there. 

The little hairs in your dog's ears assist the hearing process. Your dog can also use 18 different muscles in his ears to help him hear. Dogs can tilt their ears, raise their ears, or move their ears from side to side in order to get a full understanding of what they are hearing and how to respond.  

While hearing and sense of smell are superior in dogs compared humans, their ability to taste is not. Humans have around 9,000 taste buds while dogs have only around 2,000 taste buds. 

Training for Your Dog's Senses


There are dogs that are specifically trained to use their powerful senses for good. Service dogs are trained to help their humans with a variety of tasks. Service dogs can predict when an epileptic person is about to have a seizure, they can help with simple tasks such as getting dressed, and they can even help to locate missing people. 

Service dogs are well-loved, as they help people with disabilities live full and happy lives. Emotional support animals can be trained to provide comfort and calmness during times of stress or anxiety. Some dogs can even sense anxiety and then they can be trained to know what to do to help their owner through it. 

Training a service dog is hard work. There are dog-training organizations that train service dogs based on the specific needs of people with disabilities. 

Because of their heightened ability to smell and hear, dogs are very useful in the police force. K9 dog units are a policeman's best friend. Dogs can find illegal substances, they can sniff out bombs, and they can help to find the bad guys on the run. 

Specialty training helps dogs use the full range of their skills. Don't worry, you don't have to be an expert dog trainer in order to take advantage of your dog's skillset. 

You can train your dog to use his senses in a number of ways. Training your dog to "track" teaches him to let his sense of smell guide him. You can train your dog to track by using hot dogs. You can do this by having him follow the hot dog smell along a trail. Over time, you can us subtle scents and give less direction. This type of training takes consistent practice, but it can be an awesome way to engage your dog at higher levels of thinking. 

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Written by a Corgi lover Simone DeAngelis

Veterinary reviewed by:

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

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