Inside of a Dog

Can your dog “smell sadness” in you?

Behavioral scientist Alexandra Horowitz says it can. I hope to reference Horowitz’ 2010 book, Inside of a Dog, at least a few times in these blogposts because it presents an extraordinary look at why dogs behave as they do.

The book’s blurb entices us to her scientific and anecdotal studies of dogs through popular teases. (Why must a person on a bicycle be chased? Why do dogs lick your face?)

To me, the most fascinating factoid about dogs I learned from the book is that they have an incredible sense of smell. While we humans have five million olfactory cells, the average dog has nearly 200 million of them, and oftentimes more. That means that more of their brain is dedicated to processing these smells, and that what eyes are to us, the nose is to them.

Among other things Horowitz reveals is that dogs:

  • Can smell all the food in the house.
  • Can smell distinctive emotions of their owners — anxiety, sadness, joy, fearthrough human skin, sweat, breath, and hormones.
  • Can smell differences in the various times of the day.
  • Can smell the onset of a rainstorm
  • Will nuzzle against you not precisely because it loves you but to collect your scent it sticks to its wet nose

Dogs, in fact, have two olfactory organs. Besides their nose, they have a vomeronasal organ inside of the nose (so do reptiles) that helps them re-smell smells with renewed intensity, keeping the scents fresh. This is why they are good trackers. This is also why they can smell their owners on articles of clothing, or shoes, or (in the case of my dog) the sofa. And that’s why they chew our things. Call it an expression of missing us.

Because their noses are so ultra sensitive, dogs are also being used nowadays for early detection of cancer in humans (but this topic deserves its own blog entry).

So, to answer the question above, yes they can, although it is just one of a few ways they understand the moods of us, their “Top Dogs.”

Horowitz runs a dog cognition lab at Barnard College in New York, and posts her research on Facebook. Here’s a fun site; click on the photo link below and then check out the various “windows” of doggie information.

I hope you are as amazed as I am by the abilities of the creatures that we look at, every day, as our pets.

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One Response to Inside of a Dog

  1. Sarah Doar says:

    This is so interesting, what a great topic for a blog! I know my family has a special bond with our little dog, it'd be amazing to know what motivates all of his behaviors. Our pets really are our beginning connection with all animals. They're the best!

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