10 Surprising Things Dogs Can Smell

10 Surprising Things Dogs Can Smell

For the vast majority of humans, perception is handled through sight. While hearing, sense of touch, taste and smell do play major roles in our lives, how we perceive the world or our reality is defined by sight. For dogs, this isn’t the case. Dogs see the world with their nose first. The concept of smell is the primary input for dogs and is a way to understand and see the world. While they do see us and hear us, they can detect our presence with their sense of smell. Their noses are more than 10,000 times more “professional” than ours and our four legged friends let us utilize this extraordinary ability for our advantage.

We employ them as sniffer dogs in airports and police stations to detect things that are hard to find with the naked eyes. Their sense of smell has helped us solve thousands of cases but it’s not just hidden money or DVD’s that dogs are capable of smelling. They are capable of finding just about anything with that sensitive nose. Here, we are listing some impressive things that they can sniff out!




1. Dogs can smell changes in glucose levels.

Dogs, smell, facts, life, people
Image: Devon

One of the many burdens that someone with diabetes has to suffer with is the task of constantly monitoring their blood sugar levels. For some, it’s a painstaking process but for others, it’s a simple process thanks to Diabetic Alert Dogs. These dogs are trained to alert someone with diabetes when their glucose levels fall out of a normal range. Surprisingly, dogs can detect even the smallest change in glucose levels and alert their owners 30 minutes prior to them experiencing any symptoms of low blood sugar.

All Service Dog training begins with socialization and obedience training. The second stage involves scent detection where they are trained to identify a hypoglycemic scent, obtained from a diabetic while their blood sugar level is below 70. When the dogs detect the change in glucose levels, they alert their owners, who can then take necessary steps to avoid complications. (source)

2. Cancer cells have a distinctive smell and dogs are capable of detecting them.

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Image: Berkay Gumustekin

According to scientists, cancer cells work differently than normal cells in order to grow at a faster pace. These damaged cells produce a protein that is distinctive and super-sensitive noses of dogs are capable of picking them up. The discovery could help diagnose countless people. Studies show that dogs can detect lung cancer simply from a person’s breath. In a 2011 study published in Gut, an International Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, a Labrador retriever correctly detected cancer with 95 percent and 98 percent accuracy in two different sets of samples.

While dogs are helping discover cancer cells in thousands of samples, researchers are also trying to study and pin-point the exact odor that dogs are capable of detecting. This is done by providing dogs with certain cancerous samples to sniff and then slowly removing compounds from them. If the dog stops responding to the sample after several compounds, then scientists can pin-point the exact mixture that is specific to the cancer. This could help them create a tool that in the future can help doctors detect cancerous cells at an early stage. (source)

3. They can identify a person by using smell as a differentiator.

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Image: Pixabay

We recognize people or animals by the way they look. Dogs, on the other hand, use smell as a differentiator. Like our fingerprint, for dogs, our smell is unique to each person.
Scientists conducted experiments to check whether dogs can differentiate people even when their odor is mixed with other scents; including members of their family. When dogs were asked to retrieve objects that their owners have touched, they were able to pin-point the exact object by comparing their body odor to the object.

Furthermore, well trained dogs are capable of distinguishing “smell portraits” of identical twins. This unique ability that dogs have is what is utilized by K-9 officers to perform search and rescue operations in various emergencies. (source)




4. They can sense earthquakes, tsunamis, storms and hurricanes.

dog, nature, animal, facts
Image: John Veldboom

Animals have existed on this planet, long before us. It could be an evolutionary trait or even a sixth sense, but dogs are capable of smelling even the slightest changes in the air before a natural event takes place. According to Animal Planet, “Wild and domestic animals, including dogs, seemed to sense the impending Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, displaying their distress with behavior changes and vocal warnings, and either ran for cover or refused to go outside.”

Their heightened sense of smell combined with utmost sensitivity to geomagnetic fields and vibrations could be the way they understand changes within nature. They are also capable of detecting storms or hurricanes. Experts say that it is due to the increase in static electricity in the air that alerts them of impending storms or hurricanes. (source)

5. They can detect pregnancy even before their owner is aware of the fact that they are pregnant.

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Image: Pixabay

Their heightened sense of smell allows them to detect even the slightest changes in your body odor. When you’re pregnant, all the hormones flooding your body are likely to alter your scent. Since nothing gets past a dog’s nose, there’s a higher chance that your canine friend caught wind of a change in you; maybe even before you did.

According to Jennie K. Willis, an applied animal behaviorist with Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, even if they have detected the change, not all dogs would alert their owners; unless they are familiar with the pattern associated with pregnancies. Once the change is detected, some dogs become extremely protective of their pregnant owner. Animal Planet says that this is a surefire way to know that you are pregnant. (source)

6. They can detect epileptic seizures as early as 45 minutes before it starts.

seizures, dog, sense, smell
Image: Pixabay

Dogs can detect an epileptic seizure, minutes, or in some cases, hours, before it starts. While the exact reason and the process of detection remains a mystery, some trainers and researchers think they detect subtle changes in human behavior or scent before an episode occurs. Dogs born with this ability are extremely unique and cannot be taught to do so; making them extremely rare.

Whenever seizure detecting dogs sense an oncoming episode, they immediately alert their owner. The person can then take their medication, move to a safe place or call for help so that they are out of harms way. A 1998 study on 29 dog owners who had seizures at least once a month, reported that all 29 of their dogs alerted them of an oncoming episode as well as stayed with them until they received help. (source)

7. They can smell and detect the presence of bed bugs.

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Image: Pixabay

Since the introduction of air travel, the rise in bed bug infestation has skyrocketed in just a few decades. Just a few hidden in one’s briefcase is enough to travel from one place to another and cause the place to be infested. Dogs, who are capable of detecting anything and everything are now being trained to sniff out the presence of bed bugs. Estate lawyers are urging buyers to use the bed bug sniffing dog’s service to find out whether a property they are interested in is infested with bed bugs.

Unlike modern exterminators, these dogs with their high sense of smell can detect the presence of bed bugs within just 3 minutes of entering the property. They are highly accurate, with an accuracy rate of 96 percent, and will let you know beforehand whether there are some extra tenants that need to be removed. (source)




8. They can sniff out hidden electronics as well as money.

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Image: AF

A handful of dogs are trained to sniff out things like hard drives, memory cards, flash drives and money. The dogs, who are mostly employed at airports, pick up the unique scent and alert their handlers. One of the biggest advantages of these dogs is the fact that they can sniff out small memory cards that are hidden deep inside a bag or even if it’s being transported by someone in their body. They have a 95% accuracy rate and are responsible for locking up cyber criminals and predators. (source)

9. They can detect polycarbonates; making them America’s best anti-piracy detectors.

polycarbonates, dog, smell, facts
Image: Coast Guard

Dogs are capable of deciphering the smell of polycarbonates used in DVDs. Thanks to their extraordinary capability, they have helped to capture bootleggers around the world. These furry canines are Hollywood’s best friend. Lucky and Flo, two labradors, were the world’s first dogs who were hired to sniff out DVDs. They were sponsored by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to tackle bootlegging.

The famous pair were loaned to Malaysia, a country high on the list of bootlegging DVDs. Reports show that just months after their arrival, they sniffed out millions of dollars worth of content. Lucky and Flo, as well as other dogs, are trained to smell the layers of ‘polycarbonate plastic”, which are used to make these digital discs. (source)

10. Dogs can smell their owners from as far as 11 miles away.

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Image: Kevin Noble

Dogs are capable of detecting tiny amounts of smell diluted in air, water or far beneath the ground. The Marbach Road Animal Hospital explains that dogs can pick up scents that are diluted to 1 or 2 parts per trillion; allowing them to smell things buried as far as 40 feet underground. Their ability to pick up on tiny traces of a particular scent is what allows them to follow trails that are a week old.

There have been many cases where dogs have been accidentally left behind by their owners but the pooches managed to pick up the scent and follow the trail; only to reach home safely. In 2015, a dog in Memphis, Tennessee spent two days walking 11 miles to return to the woman who rescued him from a shelter just days before. Rachel Kauffman, a vet tech, saw the photo of Hank and decided to adopt him for a few days until he was able to find a permanent home.

Rachel adopted Hank on October 24. On October 30, she was able to find him a good home. Hank only spent a mere 6 days with Rachel but he became extremely close with her in that short period of time. After Hank was moved to his new home, his new adoptee left for work. Hank somehow managed to escape the residence, pick up Rachel’s scent and walk for nearly two days. After walking for 11 miles, Hank reached Rachel’s house.

“He traveled 11 miles to get back to me,” said Kauffman. “I can’t fathom how he traveled that far across town that fast to get back to me.” (source)




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