We’ve been tuning into a dog’s extraordinary senses ever since we began domesticating them over 30,000 years ago.
Dogs have adapted so well they’ve learned to read our facial expressions, understand our tones of voice, comprehend physical gestures and even smell our moods.
Back in the day our human ancestors maximised this potential dogs protected and herded livestock; they hunted out our dinner; they guarded our homes; they became our best friends.
Who knew that only in the last 40 years science would begin to reveal just how clever dogs have become? They can even outwit our closet ‘cousin’ the Chimpanzee by understanding gestures like ‘pointing’ from birth.
With science investigating the dogs’ huge olfactory capacity estimated to be more than one million times more acute than a human’s, it’s impossible to truly appreciate how a dog perceives the world with such immense ‘nose-power’.
Apart from being cold and wet, a dog’s nose is very different physiologically to ours. It boasts over 300,000 scent receptors compared to only six million in a human nose for a start.
What’s more the part of a dog's brain (a special chamber called the Jacobson Organ) that’s devoted to analysing scents is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours.
The Jacobson Organ is like a computer server that’s analysing, distinguishing, and storing data about every scent that enters the dog’s ‘high-tech’ nose.
We might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, but a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth.
It’s a sobering thought, and does make it more understandable why my Miniature Bull Terrier, Prudence, is addicted to ‘sniffing’. She can spend five minutes drinking in the scent from a clump of daffodils.
From military dogs, explosive dogs, conservation dogs, ‘dry rot’ dogs, truffle dogs, there’s no end to a dog’s ability to scent discriminate.
The charity Medical Detection Dogs has taken a dog’s olfaction to news limits with its Cancer Detection dogs and Medical Alert Assistance Dogs for people with life-threatening conditions, such as diabetes.
Thanks to an animal loving private detective and Medical Detection dogs, the future is now looking bright for a two-year-old rescue working cocker named Molly who needed a forever home and a vocation.
As the world’s first Cat Detection Dog Molly has been trained by the charity to scent discriminate to find missing cats and work alongside Senior Investigator, Colin Butcher, and his team at The Pet Detectives.
Colin and Molly on the Natural Instinct stand at Crufts 2017
Receiving over 10 ‘missing cats’ calls a week from distraught owners, the Pet Detectives needed an asset that would speed up their search. Molly helps sniff out cats that had either got locked in a shed or gone to ground.
To keep up with the demand in her new ‘job’, Molly is fed on Natural Instinct. She’s a typical high-energy working dog that needs nutritionally dense, appropriate meals to help her work, rest and play.
Tuning into your own dog’s nose-power can make every dog a sniffing champion. Engaging your dog’s nose to play ‘seek’ games activates their grey matter.
Prudence and I enjoy playing our plant pot game that builds in a sit, a stay, before Prudence sniffs out Natural Instinct’s beef jerky hidden under one of the pots.
Scent hounds like a Bassett Hounds and Blood Hounds are renowned as the best sniffers, whereas flat-faced breeds like a Bulldog or a Pug are slightly more compromised in their olfactory regions. Cockers and Labradors combine their ‘biddable’ natures to excel as a number one choice.
Despite their breed differences, every dog’s nose print is unique and does provide an unequivocal form of ID, just like our fingerprints.