Dog trains man

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome to the world of scent

One of the things that have always fascinated me is a dog's scenting capabilities. When a search-and-rescue party is on the news, or a drug smuggler is arrested at the airport by a K9 unit, I find myself wanting to know more about the dogs involved and how they did it. Next to the actual story itself.

It takes just a sniff

Everything a dog does has to do with scent. They live in a world of scent. Take a dog walk. You have probably noticed you can pass by another dog when it is out of sight and going downwind. But if you were going upwind it is like your dog's nose from one moment to the other is catched by a virtual fish hook. They don't see the world, they smell it.

What an interesting world that must be. I could go to my favorite restaurant, sniff a little, and know which of my friends or foes have been there before me. And from the people I have not met before, I quickly find out their age, gender, and general state of health.

Trust your dog

It is the dog that can step into that world of scent, we are merely outsiders and have no clue on what they "see". That's why handlers of search-and-rescue dogs always say "Trust your dog". But thankfully our dogs love to tell us in their own language what they are scenting so we can engage in their world. With a little imagination we can paint a picture of what they are really experiencing in daily life. Make a habit out of observing your dog on your daily walk and wonder why they stop at certain places. Let them to go off the path and indulge them. They don't have to "heel" all the time. Let them be dogs and prepare to be awed.

It is difficult to imagine how it would feel if we could distinguish as many scents like a dog. On top of that it depends on wind directions, humidity, going up- or downhill, and a lot more factors. When you have already been going to nose work classes or have done some first tracking with your dog you are probably wondering about what you have been observing and which factors played a role in your last "search".

Scent and the scenting dog

Fortunately, there is an excellent book about scent, "Scent and the scenting dog" by William G. Syrotuck. If you want to know more about the world of scent this is definitely the book to read. It is obligatory material on police K9 training schools. It is not so much a training manual, but more a thorough description of what scent is all about, and what your dog can do with it. After you have read this book, even a routine dog walk will never be the same. Welcome to the world of scent !

I hope this book can bring you closer to your dog and maybe also inspires to engage in nose work. What could be better then to let your dog explore his own "dogginess"? It is one of the most rewarding activities you can do together. To quote Randy Hare: "Anything a dog can learn on his own is more effective and better understood than what humans can force on the dog".



  1. When I see a dog sniffing I'm thinking of forensic experts. Through their nose they 'see' what has happened before they arrived.

    Ha! Another dog went through here. We haven't met him yet. He had bacon for lunch!

    It's like time viewing. Very cool.

  2. Great article!! Dogs sense of smell is so amazing. Dogs smell in layers which I find fascinating.

    There are so many good things that come from dogs having such a great sense of smell: Cancer dogs, diabetic dogs, drug dogs and I'm sure there are many others.

  3. @Dog Mama
    Liked the way you described it! "it is like time viewing". Scent add a whole dimension to their world.

    Thank you!
    There are probably also areas we havn't even thought of yet a dog's smell could come to the rescue!

  4. Hey! I love the new blog-layout! =] Awesome.

    I like the "don't make your dog heel all the time" advice. I such a thing. (Heheeeee...) Actually, I have a hard time letting certain dogs just go...but you are right. It's amazing to see them at it scenting their world through their noses rather than seeing it through their eyes.

    Scenting is...awe-inspiring to me. Just...amazing and incomprehensible. And so full of wonder.

    I like that you do scenting work with your dogs. It's something I'd like to get into, but no one around here does it, and it's not something one does on her own!

    Great article. The way you write always makes for a fun read. And because I "skim" (I can read a 1000 page book in under two hours)... Well, when I come across something I LIKE, I slow down to savor the story, kind of like curling up on the couch with a good book. (Action, no romance. I hate romance.)

  5. That made me laugh, when I wrote the "don't heel" part, you came to mind :)

    Nosework is hard to find out on yourself, also because many of the things you do is on contrary of what you learn in obedience class. Hope there will come nosework class to your neighborhood soon. Or maybe attend a seminar from Kelly Dunbar or Pat Miller? They could set you up on your own, and then maybe you are giving the nose work classes !

  6. That sounds like a great book to read, thanks for that, your wonderment at the life of dogs through their nose, and that quote from Hare - a delight to read!

  7. Thank you Mary. Glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Thank you for this! I ordered the book. I love the idea of being awed by my Sadie girl. :-)

  9. Glad to hear you ordered it. Let me know what you think!

  10. Hi there! I just saw your post on Fido & Wino, congratulations on joining the R.O.A.R. Squad!

    I've been curious about dogs and sniffing for a long time. Unless I'm directly interacting with her, Shiva spends most of our walks with her nose on the ground. It's impossible not to wonder what is so fascinating about a simple leaf.

  11. Thank you, we are in good company now!

    It is fascinating when they do that. Glad to hear Shiva is enjoying her walks so much.


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