Your Dog’s Amazing Sense of Smell


By James Leung

James - Managing Director

Unlike humans who largely experience the world through their eyses, for dogs the sense of smell is by far the most important sense. This is how they generally explore and provides the bulk of information on the their surroundings. By harnessing their incredible ability to identify and locate source odours dogs have been trained to find numerous things including explosives, narcotics, animals, animal droppings, gas leaks, keys, phones, cancer, insects and humans. Dogs are very capable of detecting just about anything that gives off an odour.

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The key to understanding this lies inside its olfactory organs or sensory system used for smelling. Inside the nose both human and dogs have turbinates. These are bony scroll-shaped plates that contain a thick spongy membrane housing nearly all of the scent- detecting cells or scent receptors and also the nerves that send odour information to the brain. It is estimated humans average about 5 million scent receptors. Depending on breed, for dogs it ranges from 100 million - 300 million.


SpeciesNumber of Scent Receptors
Humans5 million
Dachshund125 million
Fox Terrier147 million
Beagle225 million
German Shepherd225 million
Bloodhound300 million

To cope with such a large volume of information being gathered and sent to the brain, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the percentage of the brain that specializes in analyzing scents is 40 times larger than that of a human. As a result some estimates put a dog’s sense of smell 1000 to 10,000 better than humans! One example of their extraordinary sense of smell comes from a dog in New Zealand that was able to locate six inch nails under six feet of water.

Dogs Have A Unique Nose Print


Yes they do! As with human finger prints it is believed each dog’s nose will have a unique pattern of ridges and dimples that, together with the outline of its nostril openings, to form a nose print. Certain companies are now registering nose prints as means of both identifying dogs and assisting to locate missing dogs. It is a system being employed by kennel clubs globally.

Taking a nose print might take a little practice but is simple to do. Dry the surface of your dog’s nose. On a paper towel sparsely pour some food colouring and apply the towel to the dog’s nose using gentle pressure so that it becomes lightly coated. Next get a pad of paper and hold it against the nose on the front and against the sides to ensure the complete nose impression is obtained. Be sure to never use anything that is toxic and refrain from using paint and ink, as these can be very difficult to remove.

Nosework Games & Training

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In the wild, a dog hunts for food in two basically two ways: either by locating and following the footprints of his prey with his nose (tracking), or by picking up the scent of his quarry in the air (air scenting). Sometimes the latter is referred to as wind scenting event though no wind may be present. For air scenting to be most effective the dog should preferably be downwind of the prey. It makes it very testing for the dog if the prey is upwind.

Based on the principles of tracking and air scenting, at Hong Kong Canine we harness the dog’s natural instincts, abilities and train the dog to use these skills to locate items and people. We offer all kinds of courses that provide mental and physical stimulation. They include: scent discrimination, advanced scent discrimination, searching for articles or people and kitchen cupboard fun. For more details contact us for our latest offerings or visit here.