While we humans are primarily visually oriented, dogs mainly rely on their excellent sense of smell when perceiving their surroundings. For dogs, the sense of smell is crucial to survival. A dog’s nose has very special properties and is specially adapted to the needs of the dog: the dog has cold sensors all over its body, but it can only feel the heat on its nose. Because dogs are born blind, this is a vital sense of touch for the puppies, allowing them to instantly find their mother’s warm teats.
The dog’s nose – the perception world champion among the sense organs
A dog can even use it to precisely identify the fatty acids that are part of the scent of mammalian skin. A dog, therefore, smells deer or other members of the same species long before we even suspect them. Its nose smells in stereo – each nostril separately – this way the dog can judge the direction of a trail and even follow an old trail.
Long snout – better nose
In addition, the smell performance is also many times better than ours. The more pronounced sense of smell can already be recognized by the number of olfactory cells, although there are dog breeds considerable differences between them. The human nose has only 20 to 30 million olfactory cells, the dachshund’s nose around 125 million, and a shepherd dog even 220 million. The longer a dog’s snout is, the better its sense of smell because then there is more space for the mucous membrane that absorbs scent molecules. Glands provide constant moisture there, which is why the dog’s nose is always cold and damp. When tracking, dogs breathe in up to 300 times per minute to get constant “updates” on the scent situation. This dries out the mucous membranes, which is why nose work makes you incredibly thirsty.
Dog’s nose in the service of man
Through intensive training, a dog’s phenomenal olfactory power can be used specifically in the service of humans. For police and border guards, dogs track down drugs or bombs, trained rescue dogs find missing or buried people, and foodies can help dogs find truffles. Dogs with the right nose can also help people with health problems: trained assistance dogs can identify a possible seizure in epileptics before it occurs. This allows the person to put themselves in a safe position so as not to injure themselves during the seizure.
Detection dogs for lung cancer detection
Dogs can also sniff out whether a person has lung cancer – regardless of whether the patient smokes or has the lung disease COPD. In a medical pilot test by DARWIN GmbH in Styria (A), the specially trained dogs correctly identified more than 93% of the 2,250 checks during the breath test. In a study conducted in Germany, four dogs detected cancer in 71 out of 100 cases. These impressive results give hope that this method will also set a milestone in the detection of lung cancer in the foreseeable future.