A Dog’s Super Sense of Smell

DrPaul -

A Dog’s Super Sense of Smell

A dog’s sense of smell has kept them firmly within the top ten species on the planet to own a superior snout. 

Unsurprisingly a human's sense of smell is pretty inferior when it comes to what we can detect with scientists estimating that a dog’s sense of smell is anywhere between 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than ours. It is thought that dogs have 50 times more scent receptors to us as well as something called neophilia, which is the love of something new and interesting meaning new scents and smells will pique their interest and, in some cases, may seem completely intoxicating. 

Certain breeds of dog can detect scents and smells more acutely than others with Bloodhounds taking the podium with almost 300 million scent receptors. Other breeds such as Labradors, German Shepherds and Basset hounds also have more sensitive senses of smell when compared with some of their counterparts.

So what can this doggy super sense do?  


  • Tracking: For centuries dogs have been used to help search and rescue people who are lost or missing in remote locations or during natural disasters. Trained dogs can also isolate a person's individual scent meaning they can target the person they are searching for. This superpower has also been used in the fight against crime where they can find kidnapped victims or sniff out criminals.  


  • Detecting human disease! Trained dogs can now detect and isolate specific diseases such as types of cancer, diabetes and most recently coronavirus, often being able to alert people in the early stages of their disease. Trained dogs can detect when an epileptic may be about to have a seizure, or if a diabetic has low blood sugar, and provide their owners with warning. Dogs can also detect stages of human fertility and are able to sense when a woman is ovulating or in the early stages of pregnancy. 


  • Emotions. There is no doubt that our canine companions seem to know what we are feeling and a lot of this is because they can literally smell how we feel. Our bodies emit hormones with our changing moods which can be detected by our dogs in our breath and sweat.


  • Drugs and Chemicals. Because dogs have such refined olfactory systems, they can be trained to identify and alert us to the presence of drugs or chemicals that are a threat. This includes explosives, with dog’s being used as bomb-sniffers for over 100 years.


Harnessing this incredible sense of smell means dogs now play a vital role in advancing science, supporting the vulnerable and protecting society. So next time you get the urge to boop that cute snoot...Don’t forget it's literally a lifesaver!

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.