As pretty much every dog lover knows, dogs have a much better sense of smell than most other animals, including people! But even within the canine species as a whole, certain breeds and types of dogs have a much better sense of smell than most of their peers.
If you’ve ever wondered which dogs are at the top of their game when it comes to using their noses, in this article, we will look at the basics of how the dog smells things, what type of dogs have the best sense of smell, and how this superior scenting ability can be used. Read on to learn more!
The dog’s sense of smell is their best and most acute sense, and the one that they rely upon the most heavily. The shape and make-up of the inside of the dog’s nose differs considerably from that of people, and understanding these differences can help to explain why dogs have such an acute scenting ability.
Inside of the nose of both dogs and people are membranes that contain the cells and nerves that both detect a smell and send messages about it to the brain for decoding; however, in the nose of people, this entire membrane is just a couple of centimetres across, while for dogs, the membrane is folded up in order to maximise its size within the available nasal cavity, and is actually around fifty times larger than ours! The longer the muzzle or nose of the dog, the bigger this membrane is likely to be.
As well as the scent receptor in the dog’s nose being much larger than ours, the part of the brain that processes scents is also much greater, allowing dogs to discern between literally thousands more different smells than people can.
The dog also has an additional scenting organ that people lack entirely, which is called the Jacobson’s Organ, and this is located in the roof of the dog’s mouth. This organ does not detect smells per se, but rather pheromones, which are scentless, and which are chemicals produced by different animals that can be decoded by other animals of the same type, and which pass on invisible messages about things like mood, health, and receptiveness to mating.
Scent hounds are dogs who use their sense of smell to its fullest ability, and generally dogs that have the most acute sense of smell fall within the scent hound group. Dogs of this type were traditionally used for hunting, because the combination of their excellent sense of smell and tenacity when following a trail led to their suitability for this role, and over time, selective breeding for working ability only served to enhance this.
For this very reason, most of the dog breeds that have the very best sense of smell tend to come from the scent hound grouping. Unlike the formal assessment criteria that is in place for testing canine intelligence, however, there is no universally accepted method by which to formally test the scenting ability of any given dog, and such things are usually determined by trial and error, and an assessment of the breed’s natural ability.
Over time, the selection process for working scent hounds has led to a shortlist of breeds that tend to demonstrate the best scenting ability across the board, and we’ll look at three of the best of them now.
As mentioned, there is no scientific test to determine precisely which breeds of dog have the very best sense of smell, but any dog from within the scent hound grouping will be near to the top of the list! Three of the most widely recognised scent hounds that are highly prized for their scenting ability include:
The Bloodhound, which is commonly accepted to be the very best scenting dog available. The Bloodhound can follow scents in the air as well as on the ground, and can even detect and trail scents over water, and after rain or other adverse environmental conditions have come into play.
The Beagle was originally used as part of game hunting and hunting with hounds, and although they were later overtaken in the popularity stakes by the Foxhound, which is taller, rangier and has better stamina at speed, the Beagle remains as one of the best scent hunting breeds around.
The Foxhound has been commonly recognised as a breed in its own right since breed registries began, and they are particularly adept at working as part of a pack, and when one dog loses the scent, the pack working dynamic dictates that the entire pack spreads out until one of the dogs has found it, and alerts the others to continue the chase!
Since hunting with hounds has now become illegal in the UK, Foxhound numbers are on the decline, and unless a new working role is found for this very tenacious and hardworking breed, their numbers will likely continue to fall.
Dogs that have a superior scenting ability tend to be very obsessive about scents, and pursue their trails to the exclusion of all other stimulus! This means that dogs that can scent well can be found in a wide variety of different working roles, which may include pursuing prey, helping with searches for missing persons, finding bodies, as sniffer dogs with the police, military and customs agencies, and even, in a small but fast-growing field, to sniff out the early warning signs of certain types of cancers.