6 Fascinating Ways Your Dog Uses Their Nose To Understand The World

There’s a reason why your dog is constantly sniffing everything!

owner gently pets dog at the beach Cristina Conti / Shutterstock
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It’s no secret that dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell that shapes their understanding of the world in profound ways. In the same way, we humans rely primarily on our vision to perceive the world; dogs rely on their smell.

Remarkably, our furry babies’ snouts have olfactory abilities beyond what we can imagine. To put this into perspective, dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, while humans only have about six million. The area of their brains where they can interpret these receptors is around 40 times bigger than ours.

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Your dog’s nose has six incredible functions that help them understand the world:

1. Their nose can breathe in and out at the same time

Unlike humans, a dog’s nose is designed for air to pass through and out of their nostrils simultaneously. This is because a dog’s snout has the ability to split the air they breathe into two paths. 

One portion detects scents and travels to the olfactory sensing area, while the other is designed for breathing.

RELATED: 10 Tiny Ways To Make Sure Your Dog Knows You Love Them — In A Language They Can Understand

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If you've spent any time examining your pup's snout, you might have noticed that they have two nostrils and two slits on the side of their nose.

They inhale through their nostrils and exhale through the slits, allowing for continuous airflow.

These slits also allow dogs to wiggle each nostril individually, helping them detect which nostril a scent has traveled through.

2. They have a 'second' sense of smell

Dogs have a second olfactory system, called the vomeronasal organ, also referred to as Jacobsen’s organ, which allows them to detect sexual pheromones from other dogs. 

Located at the bottom of their nasal passage, this organ system also helps them sense when another dog is ready for mating and contributes to their reproductive process.

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3. A wet nose boosts their sense of smell

Surely, you have noticed the wetness of your pup’s nose as a sign that they are healthy! This moisture allows additional scent particles to stick to their nose so they can process more scents. 

It also aids in regulating their temperature. Since dogs don’t sweat, when they feel particularly hot, they lick their nose and let the moisture evaporate, offering a cooling sensation.

RELATED: 5 Things You're Doing That Hurt Your Dog's Feelings Without Realizing It

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4. Each nostril can smell individually

In the same sense that humans can perceive sight through each eye individually, forming a “3-D” perception of the world, dogs can do the same with their nostrils! 

Because of the individual odor profiles they receive from either nostril, their brains can also form a 3-D picture of their environment, allowing them to interpret exactly what they are smelling and where it is located.

5. They can track other people and animals

Your dog’s nose can literally smell the passage of time.

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Because a dog’s snout can pick up on drops in odor molecule concentrations, when they’re smelling a particular area, they can smell who has been there, how long they were there, and which direction they traveled in.

@thefarmersdog Smelling time seems impossible, but dogs are just THAT amazing 👃 🐶 ⏰ #amazingdogs #dogfacts #dognose ♬ original sound - The Farmer’s Dog

This is why your dog sniffs you uncontrollably whenever you get home from a day out. They are so eager to discover what you did, and from one sniff alone they can decipher just that and more — where you went, who you were with, what you ate — everything. 

This ability empowers tracking dogs to trace other people, animals, and objects in mind-blowing ways, such as tracking a scent from over 12 miles away.

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6. They can smell someone’s gender, mood, and health

This applies to both humans and other dogs. Through their sense of smell, dogs have the incredible ability to determine the gender, mood, demeanor, and health status of another being.

@petlabco Most dog owners don’t realise their pet knows a lot about them! #dogparents #dogowner #dogmom#dogmomlife #dogdad #dogtok#dogstory #doglover ♬ Kinda awkward - ionics

They can tell if someone is anxious, stressed, or sick, or if they’re a threat or not, just by noticing the changes in their scent through their sweat and breath prompted by certain emotional or biological states.

Dogs additionally use their sense of smell to recognize familiar people and animals. If a friend, who owns another dog or cat at home, frequently comes over, over time, your dog will gradually familiarize themselves with not only your friend’s scent but their pet’s scent as well.

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Evidently, dogs and humans make compatible companions for their complementary qualities.

If you didn’t know before, now you can better understand the brilliant functions of your dog’s special little snout that has capabilities beyond our expectations. One might even refer to their sense of smell as a superpower!

dog and owner embrace nose to nose affection SofikoS / Shutterstock

All of the ways a dog’s nose significantly contributes to their understanding of the world is only another reason why humans and dogs are considered to be such a powerful duo. Dogs can protect us in ways other humans biologically can’t, and humans can help their pups hone in on these incredible skills through diligent training.

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Keep these facts in mind when taking your pup out for a walk next time, and while it can occasionally get annoying, let them sniff out all the exciting scents they love to explore because what a waste it would be to let their incredible skills go uncharted. 

RELATED: 4 Subtle Signs Your Dog Is Trying To Tell You Something Important

Francesca Duarte is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team based in Orlando, FL. She covers lifestyle, human interest, adventure, and spirituality topics.