A Dog's Range of Smell

by Naomi Millburn
    In terms of detecting scent, humans can't compete with canines.

    In terms of detecting scent, humans can't compete with canines.

    Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    As connected as you may feel to your cute pooch, one aspect of him that you likely will never be able to understand or experience is his extremely sophisticated sense of smell. Canines can detect scents to an extent unimaginable to mere humans, so don't try to compete.

    Range of Smell

    Dogs have a significantly larger range of smell than human beings, and even cats. Cats and human beings are less dependent on their olfactory senses than are dogs. According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, a person's nose possesses "solely" 5 million scent receptors, while a dog has a minimum of 220 million — a staggering numerical difference. The canine sense of smell is 1,000 times stronger than that of a human because of the much higher presence of olfactory receptors. Not to mention, the section of the canine brain that focuses on smelling is 40 times bigger in size than the human brain's equivalent.

    Jacobson's Organ

    One of the keys to the extraordinary canine sense of smell is the Jacobson's organ, which also is referred to as the vomeronasal organ. The organ is situated in the lower section of a dog's nasal package at the rear of the upper incisors, and is capable of detecting the existence of sex hormones and their related signals -- often those transmitted for mating purposes. Jacobson's organ is not exclusively a smelling tool, but a sophisticated means of receiving communication, too.


    Dogs can pick up on odors that essentially are impossible for human beings. Because of the immense strength of the canine nose, you often may see dogs employed in official duties that involve uncovering scents that are extremely subtle to people, whether termites, restricted produce, concealed currency, forensic substances for purposes of identifying individuals or anything else. What may go totally unnoticed by a person may be very easy to detect for a canine.

    Certain Breeds

    While all dogs have a massive range of smell compared to people and many other animals, some breeds can smell more impressively than others. Beagles, bloodhounds and basset hounds are just a couple of examples of canine breeds with especially strong olfactory skills. This largely is a result of selective breeding. Dogs that are bred to be "scent hounds" have noses that are wider and longer -- very handy for holding additional "smelling" cells. The more "real estate" a dog's nose has for unearthing smells, the better. Breeds with tiny noses, such as the pug, simply don't have the nasal space for as many of the cells.

    Photo Credits

    • Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Naomi Millburn has been a freelance writer since 2011. Her areas of writing expertise include arts and crafts, literature, linguistics, traveling, fashion and European and East Asian cultures. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in American literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.

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