Nose News: How Dogs 'See' with Their Noses

Posted by Samantha Bubar

The nose of a dog is far superior in so many ways.

When you let your dog outside to pee, it's hard not to notice their nose. 90 percent of their potty break is spent sniffing. They sniff the air, the ground, the trees, the ground again, a leaf, and did I mention the air? Meanwhile, we're standing there scratching our heads thinking... what on Earth are they smelling?

This TED Ed video explains exactly what, and how, they're smelling!

Nose Architecture

Every part of a dog's nose is engineered to help them smell more and better. From the moist outside catching all the scents on the air, to the entry and exit of the air, to each nostril separately determining the direction of the smell- their nose is a force to be reckoned with!

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When they constantly smell the air while out on their potty breaks, they aren't just smelling what scents are there currently. They can smell what kinds of smells there are, where the smells are located, and what direction the smells are headed.

Dogs also don't breathe in and out through the same passage. They breathe in through the nostril, and out through a slit in the side of their nose. This allows the air they are breathing in and out to create a "swirl" pattern of air that allows odor molecules to build up the more they sniff.

Scent Receptors

When air enters your dogs nose, it enters the nose and then the nose is separated in two chambers, separated by tissue. One chamber is for breathing and one chamber is specifically for smelling the scents the air brings in.

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In these scent chambers, there are 300 million specialized scent receptor cells! Humans only have a measly five million scent receptor cells, in comparison.

Brain Power

With the nose taking in all those scent molecules, how does the brain possibly keep up? In dogs, the center of the brain that processes scents is larger. That way, there is more room for processing a multitude of scents and remembering "odor profiles."

Can They Smell Feelings?

Dogs have a Vomeronasal organ, located near the roof of their mouth. This organ can detect things that can't be seen by the naked eye. They can smell hormones that are released, which help in the mating process as well as to tell if a mammal is friendly or dangerous.

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They can sense emotional states based on hormones, as well as if someone is pregnant or sick. This may be how they can judge whether a person is "good" or "bad" based on their hormones.

Are Dogs a Better Judge?

The scent organs are connected directly to the brain, which means that a dog's sense of smell may be a better judge than our own feelings. This primal instinct is what causes dogs to act friendly towards another human, or shy away from someone they think may be "bad."

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Dogs' sense of emotion and instinct are more closely tied, which means we should pay attention to their cues. This makes dogs wonderful resources for humans. Whether it is sniffing out drugs or bombs, or as a service dog that may know when someone's levels drop- their nose is a valuable resource.

The next time you take your pooch for a walk or let them outside for a potty break, give them a few extra minutes to "see" the world around them. Their sense of smell brings to light a world beyond our senses.

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Nose News: How Dogs 'See' with Their Noses