Why your dog’s nose is better than yours

A one-of-a-kind nose. JORDAN BLAKE / CONTRIBUTED
A one-of-a-kind nose. JORDAN BLAKE / CONTRIBUTED

Teddy, my family’s 5-year-old black Lab, has a big, slightly damp nose. He sticks it everywhere it doesn’t belong.

Teddy, like his canine brethren, has an amazing sense of smell. If you have food, there’s no place you can hide. Teddy comes running and in seconds can find where you’ve hidden it.

So, why does Teddy’s nose function more effectively than mine or yours? Well, it’s mostly because of his anatomy. Simply put, a larger portion of his brain is devoted to interpreting smells.

Every time Teddy breathes through his nose, the air divides into two separate pathways, one into his lungs, the other into his brain’s olfactory center.

Humans have about five million scent receptors. At the low end for dogs, a Dachshund has about 125 million receptors. Bloodhounds and working dogs, like German Shepherds and retrievers, like Teddy, top off at 300 million, according to dogingtonpost.com.

Michael T. Nappier of the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine writes on petmed.com that a dog can smell up to 100,000 times better than a human. “A dog’s sense of smell is its most powerful sense,” he says. “It is so sensitive that [dogs can] detect the equivalent of a half a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic sized swimming pool.”

As for the moisture, I always knew Teddy’s nose was supposed to be damp, but I never knew why. I do know that damp-nose nudges at 3 a.m. by a 55-plus pound dog will wake you up every time.

Dogs have lateral glands that secrete a fluid that keeps their nose canals lubricated. According to scienceabc.com, Teddy’s nose is wet because it perpetually produces a thin layer of mucus, which helps to trap olfactory molecules from the surrounding air.

As Teddy walks, he sniffs the air, and after a while his enormous tongue sweeps his nose. Expert John Staughton at scienceabc.com says Teddy is tasting the olfactory molecules his nose has captured. When Teddy brings them inside his mouth, he is exposing them to his olfactory receptors.

This continuous action gives Teddy information. The Lab knows who has recently walked along the same path, whether it be a dog or another animal.

Another thing I didn’t know about Teddy’s nosy nose was how unique it was. It’s literally one of a kind.

Just as no two humans’ fingerprints are the same, no two dogs’ nose prints are the same. Teddy’s nose is filled with lines forming patterns just like my fingerprints. A dog’s nose can also have bumps, dimples and ridges, adding to its uniqueness.

Nose printing is the most reliable form of dog tracking because a dog’s nose never changes. Teddy’s collar or tags can get lost or stolen. His microchip can move in his body or even be removed. But Teddy’s big, damp nose can’t be changed.

Teddy’s nose print is so unique it could be used to identify him if he ever got lost. According to sitstaygoco.com, the Canadian Kennel Club has been using dog nose prints as a form of identity since 1938. Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn’t have a national database for dog nose prints.

If you are interested in making a print of your canine’s nose you can find easy instructions online.

Anyone in my family will tell you how unique our beloved Teddy is, and we’re not exaggerating with his one-of-a-kind nose.

Karin Spicer, a magazine writer, has been entertaining families for more than 20 years. She lives in Bellbrook with her family and two furry animals all who provide inspiration for her work. She can be reached at spicerkarin@gmail.com.


1. Photographs

2. Dog tags/licences

3. Microchip

4. Dog nose print