How a Dog Actually “Sees” the World Through Smell

Dogs experience the world in a very different way from us. While the majority of us rely on sight as our main sense, our canine friends rely on mostly on their sense of smell. Our dogs have stronger olfactory senses (anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times), and can detect scent in concentrations one hundred-millionth (1/100,000,000) of what we require to smell something, and then transform them into extensively dimensional and useful information about the world around them.

Different breeds of dogs smell at different levels. For example, a dachshund have around 125 million scent receptors, and a bloodhound have up to 300 million scent receptors. Comparatively, we humans have around 5 million scent receptors.

Putting it into perspective, cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz (Head, Dog Cognition Lab, Barnard College) wrote in her book 'Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know':

"We might notice if our coffee’s been sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar; a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water: two Olympic-sized pools full."

How that neurobiological magic happens is what Horowitz explains in this short animation from TED-Ed.

So, the next time you bring fido out for a walk, try to be patient while he/she endlessly sniffs the same patch of ground. He is gathering the information required to experience the world.

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