Veterinary Blog

What your Dog Nose About You!

By Dr. Leslie Ross D.V.M.

Now that I have your attention…yes this image below is of a real, rare double-nosed breed of hound that can be found in South America. It is known, fittingly enough as a The Double- nosed Andean Tiger Hound. Many people believe the double nose increases this type of dog’s scent discrimination abilities; however, there is no reliable research to indicate whether the double nose is a benefit or a hindrance. The “double nose” appears to be a normal dog’s nose, but with the nostrils separated by a band of skin and fur dividing the nose all the way to the dog’s upper lip.

To be technically correct, it is possible that designating the Double-nosed Andean Tiger Hound as a “breed” is premature. They may just be genetic anomalies within the general strain of Andean Tiger Hounds.

It is an interesting fact that there are a few other rare breeds sporting this unusual double-barreled look as well. Two examples are The Turkish Pointer or Catalburun, and a similar Spanish dog named a Pancho Navarro. (Old Spanish Pointer).

Your dog’s nose not only dominates its face but brain, as well. In fact, a dog relies on his or her sense of smell to interpret its world, in much the same way as people depend on their sight. It can certainly be said that your dog interprets about as much information as you do, just in a different way. A dog sniffs at an object or animal to acquire information to process, not by staring at the object as humans do. The information from a room provides about as much information to a dog as does a local newspaper to a person. Researchers have stated an interesting comparison that a dog has the ability to pick out the odor of one bad apple hidden in two billion barrels of apples! Another interesting concept is that it is estimated that a dog’s nose can smell up to one million times that of a human’s nose! Although the number of scent receptors varies with the size and length of a dog’s nose, even flat-nosed breeds can detect smells far better than people. The Blood Hound is in general one of the most efficient of all breeds in this department.

The source of the dog’s exceptional ability to smell is its wet snout. The moist leathery surface of the snout catches tiny molecules of odors then presents them to smell receptor cells for analysis. To keep the nose wet a dog must produce a constant supply of mucus through its nasal cavities. Scientists have calculated that the average dog produces a pint of nasal mucus every day!

It is truly amazing what dogs can discern with their noses. They can smell fear in people as well as in other dogs through alarm pheromones released by fearful individuals. They are capable of differentiating tears of joy, which contain different substances than those of tears of sadness or pain.

Dogs can smell human fingerprints that are a week old.

They can smell electricity. (The proposed theory to explain this ability is that a trained dog can detect tiny amounts of ozone released by the electric charge).

Dogs also are capable of detecting when animals such as cows are ovulating and are very probably capable of detecting pregnancy in humans. (If dogs could only talk…!)

All humans have a unique smell. Dogs can pick people out according to their body odor and other scents they project. Scientists think the only way a dog would not be able to tell two people apart would be if they were identical twins on identical diets. The twins would also have to remain silent.

For centuries trained dogs have provided mankind with tremendous benefits in countries around the world. For example, tracking is a serious business for working dogs. These dogs can ferret out drugs, bombs, fire accelerants, explosives, and contraband, escaped criminals, lost children, and victims of disasters. They have served other very useful purposes such as searching for underground gas pipelines, (dogs can detect odors that are up to 40 feet underground), and assisting farmers by detecting animals in season. (Since dogs can tell from the smell of a cow’s urine whether it is in heat, farmers train them so they can know the best time to introduce a bull to a heifer for breeding). In the United States dogs are used to sniff out termite infestations.

In Guam, the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services use specially trained Jack Russell terriers to sniff out brown tree snakes in the loading bays of airplanes

Dogs work at airports, military installations, police departments, fire departments, immigration points, and search and rescue teams. They soon may become useful in the medical field, since recent studies suggest that dogs seem to be capable of using their super-sensitive noses to detect human illnesses from epileptic fits to cancers. Quite creatively, some people have trained their own dogs to sniff out food products such as dairy or peanuts that may cause life-threatening reactions in certain individuals with severe food allergies. Still, another less glamorous but useful task that some owners train their dogs to do is to sniff and dig out edible underground mushrooms.

Although it is a common belief that a dog’s cold nose is a sign of good health, this concept is only partly true. In fact, in the course of a day a dog’s nose temperature changes from warm to dry to cold quite normally. In general, a healthy dog will lick his nose every now and then making his nose consistently wet. A lethargic or an ill dog may not have the energy to lick its nose. However, this fact is not a very reliable measure of the dog’s general health. A dog that has been sleeping may have a dry and warm nose. Also, some breeds of flat-faced dogs cannot physically lick their noses and they may have dry chapped nose leathers normally. So, it is important to recognize that a warm nose is not an automatic sign of a fever or sickness. However, some signs of concern, which certainly warrant a visit to your veterinarian, include if your dog is producing unusually colored nasal secretions (greenish or white), has a facial odor or is excessively sneezing. Also, progressive changes in the texture of your dog’s nose leather (crusty, flaky), the development of nasal scabs or open sores, and loss of color of a pet’s nose leather are all reasons to set up an appointment with your veterinarian.

Fairly common causes of nasal diseases include nasal infections, foreign bodies in the nose such as grass seeds, long pieces of grass, or other objects, nasal mites, and nasal cavity tumors.

Even if your dog is not serving a noble purpose, nose games can be a lot of fun for you as well as for your dog. As an added benefit, a dog that finds his toy, a treat, or his owner by using his nose is a dog that looks forward to the interaction with his family and is less likely to be destructive when left alone. Outdoors, a pet can learn to find his leash, find your son or daughter, or find the toy he left in the back yard. Who knows…if you are creative enough you and your dog may become the next YouTube Scentsation!

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