The folks who study dogs’ noses have discovered some pretty fascinating stuff, some of which makes you wonder. For example, research shows that the average human honker has around 20 million scent receptor cells. Cats do about 5 times better with around 100 million, but dogs take the prize; 280 million receptor cells clustered in folds of skin known as the olfactory mucosa.Our measly 20 million scent receptors take up about 1/2 square inch of space. A cat’s 100 million take up as much as 6 square inches, but a dog’s olfactory mucosa can use up to 20 square inches, depending upon the breed. I don’t know how reliable those numbers are because various reliable sources offer variations of the numbers. Suffice it to say that dogs and cats have many, many more scent receptors than we doBecause they do, some dogs go ballistic as soon as you approach the vet clinic. That’s because they can detect the residual scent from “fear pheromones” released by frightened dogs that were there who knows how long ago. It is said that a dog can detect the remains of a scent as minute as one ten-millionth of its original strength. While we can smell a steak sizzling on the grill, a dog can detect a tiny spatter of grease from the steak we grilled last month. Another piece of nasal architecture that helps is a tube like structure imbedded in the roof of the mouth called the Jacobson’s organ, or the vomeronasal organ (VNO). Smells are directed through the VNO, which “reads” the scent, enabling the animal to gather information. I’d love to know how they determine such things, but reliable sources claim amazing examples of animals’ olfactory capabilities. For example, they can learn: who traveled the area, their gender, social status, breeding status, what they ate, what they rolled in, whether they were alone or with somebody or something, how long ago they were there, which way they went, and more. Often times you can catch your dog or cat directing odors to its VNO. Dogs and cats will engage in a sort of tongue-clacking or lip smacking behavior, while cats will also engage in a movement known as flehmen, where they curl their lips back in a sort of grimace. This behavior is observed in wild animals, too, notably ungulates, or hoofed animals, such as deer and elk, and in felids such as lions and tigers. To grasp the scope of a dog’s extraordinary olfactory capabilities, consider this. We pass a pizza parlor and smell pizza. Dogs smell yeast, tomatoes, oregano, etc. Just think about dogs that are trained to sniff out contraband at airport baggage claim areas. Along the conveyor come scores of bags, each containing clean clothing smelling of detergents, bleach and fabric softeners; dirty clothing smelling of food spills, bodily fluids and wastes, and colognes and after-shaves. They also hold toiletries and cosmetics, the sole purpose of which is to raise the olfactory consciousness of a human with a pathetic 20 million-cell olfactory mucosa. Adding to the odorous buffet are souvenirs, edibles, reading materials, and who knows what else. Then there are the scent-laden gadgets such as shoe horns, electric toothbrushes, hair dryers, curling irons, electric razors, and bongs. Ooops. The dog sits down and you’re busted. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.Cover photo credit:




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