Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | January 9, 2008

See Spot Run – The Canine Sense of Smell

See Spot Write the Pet Column

See Spot Write the Pet Column

See Spot run. See Spot sniff. See Spot write this week’s Pet Column.

Hi, my name is Spot. I am not sure if my friends here at the shelter named me that because of the spot on my nose or the big one on my back but I am proud of my cute nose, which is more amazing than most people realize. A dog’s sense of smell and repertoire of scents is at least hundreds of times and perhaps more than a million times more acute and expansive than yours.

Why is this? Well for one we have much more surface area within our nasal cavities, providing us with a great supply of sensory cells (estimates of the total number of these cells vary with breed, but are cited as somewhere between 125 million and several times that – compared with estimates of human numbers in the 5 to 10 million cell range).

In addition, dogs have devoted a tremendous amount of our brain tissue to olfactory cells. (Some estimates allocate one-third of the dog’s brain to the chore of scenting.) All this adds up to a canine scenter with thousands to millions of times the ability of our human counterpart.

Dog’s incredible sense of smell is used to benefit mankind in ways that are fragments of our potential. Employed in search and rescue some dogs can follow a trail that is more than a week old. In finding cadavers dogs have detected drowned people in a depth of 80+ feet of water. Dogs are also used for detecting explosives, firearms, and drugs, and even scenting tumors in human patients. Early work has begun to use dogs to test the breath of humans to help diagnose internal diseases before they become evident with other “scientific” methods.

An organ, called the Jacobson’s Organ, largely explains some of the mysteries of the canine sniffer. This organ is a “sense of smell” receptor that is actually not receptive to ordinary odors but substances that have large molecules usually lacking detectable odor.

The sensory cells of Jacobson’s Organ (which anatomists claim are unlike any other nerve cells) communicate with the part of the brain that coordinates mating and other basic emotions. This system cooperates with our regular odor detection system to produce novel sensibilities not achievable by either individual system, giving legitimacy to our ability to “smell fear” from humans.

Another great capacity of my spotted nose is captured through the use of Aromatherapy, an approach I have been reading about using different flower scents or essences to trigger emotions and physiological reactions through scent response. The effects of a particular scent on the brain centers depend on the flower essence used, and an entire repertory can be developed to help a dog’s parent to decide which aroma may be beneficial for which situation.

For example, recent studies using electro-encephalograms (EEGs) confirm that at least some of the aromas do affect brain centers just as they are thought to. One study in particular shows that rosemary depresses alpha-activity (i.e., acts as a stimulant) and ylang ylang enhances it (providing relaxation). In addition, one trial demonstrated that kenneled dogs bark less when they are exposed to the soothing aroma of lavender. Although this treatment modality is a work in progress, it holds many exciting implications.

So, my cute little spotted nose turns out to be quite a powerful and dynamic little organ. The Second Chance Shelter staff have always wondered why certain shelter dogs seem to like some potential adopters better than others. Perhaps the secret is that we smell the right combination of personal traits that we know will make the best parent for our individual selves…

If you are looking for an adorable puppy with big feet to match my heart – come on down to the shelter and let me give you a smell.

Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter Voucher Program, Volunteer & Foster Care, or other pet questions. For more information on SCHS, or to visit our shelter pets online, go to: Responses to this week’s column or questions for next week’s column can be sent to:



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