By Dr. Becker
Inside your nose are about 6 million olfactory receptors that allow you to recognize thousands of different smells.1 It sounds like a lot, until you realize that inside your dog’s nose there are up to 300 million such receptors.
While you can detect certain odors in parts per billion, a dog can detect them in parts per trillion. Plus, your dog has a part of his brain devoted to analyzing smells that’s about 40 times larger, proportionally, than the same area in your brain.2
This explains why a dog’s sense of smell is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than your own, and also why their sense of smell can be described as nothing short of amazing. As reported by NOVA scienceNOW:3
“…in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth.
Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.”
Hard-Drive-Sniffing Dogs Help Police Find Cyber Criminals
You probably know dogs can sniff out drugs, people, bombs, and even cancer, but hard drives? It turns out dogs can also use their noses to detect hard drives, thumb drives, and other computer gear, and police are now using these specially trained hard-drive-sniffing dogs in the fight against child pornography.
Because such devices are typically very small, criminals can hide them virtually anywhere, making the dogs invaluable. The Connecticut State Police Training Academy has already trained more than 60 dogs in their 22-week program, teaching them to find all kinds of digital devices. As reported by The Bark:4
“A Labrador Retriever named Thoreau was recently placed at a Rhode Island police department, making the Ocean State the second in the nation to have a digital device sniffing pup… [in June] Thoreau assisted in his first search warrant, pinpointing a thumb drive containing child pornography in a box hidden deep inside a metal cabinet.”
This isn’t the first time dogs have been used to detect digital criminals. In the past, DVD-sniffing dogs have been used to track down massive DVD counterfeiting operations in Southeast Asia, finding not only millions of pirated discs but also burner towers used to produce them.5
Your Dog’s Nose as a Medical Device?
Dogs can detect subtle differences in the breath, urine, skin, blood, and feces of cancer patients, allowing them to detect certain cancers with up to 97 percent accuracy. In one study, dogs were able to detect or rule out lung and breast cancer, at all stages of the disease, with about 90 percent accuracy just by sniffing breath samples.
Even more remarkable, the dogs used for the study were “ordinary household dogs” who had only received a short three-week training beforehand. In another study, a black lab named Marine was able to detect colon cancer with 25 percent greater accuracy than the routinely used fecal occult blood test.6
Recently, dogs were also able to detect prostate-cancer-specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the urine of prostate cancer patients with 98 percent accuracy.7 So-called medical detection dogs and medical alert assistance dogs are also being trained to detect medical crises before they happen, helping to alert patients so they can seek help. This includes:
- Changes in blood sugar levels to help people with diabetes
- Severe allergic responses
You Won’t Believe What Else Dogs Can Smell
It truly is remarkable how a dog’s sense of smell can help humankind. Among the extraordinary accomplishments, dogs have been trained to sniff out:8
- Diseased beehives: Dogs can detect the bacteria that causes a bee disease known as American Foulbrood, so the hives can be removed before they infect others.
- Whale feces: Whale poop is used in research into whale diets, but while it floats initially, it sinks in about half an hour, making it very difficult to come by. Dogs can detect the scent of whale poop from more than a mile away and are trained to lead a boat’s captain right to it.
- Bed bugs: Dogs can detect bed bug infestations with a reported 96 percent accuracy.
- Ovulation in cows: Some farmers use dogs trained to detect when a cow is in heat to help with artificial insemination.
- Emotions: If you’re fearful, anxious, or sad, your body may produce certain hormones, such as adrenaline. Dogs can detect scents from these hormones, along with other body chemicals released, to essentially smell certain emotions.9
Now, the next time you curl up next to your favorite canine, I bet you’ll have a newfound appreciation when his cold, wet nose touches your face. And if you found the capabilities of a dog’s olfactory system interesting, here’s some more food for thought: it’s not only dogs that have this amazing capability. Bees can be trained to sniff out certain scents like bomb residue on a part-per-trillion ratio, too!