The Nose Knows

Welcome to this weeks edition of ‘The Dog Blog’, from Assistance Dogs Trust New Zealand.

Some of our recent blogs have shown some aspects of the work that our graduated dogs go on to do, for their special people in the community. This week, we look closer at one of their stronger senses, and how it helps steer some of them to a particular type of work.

Animal noses have always intrigued me. Particularly dog noses – they seem to be working ALL the time! It’s common knowledge that a dogs sense of smell is significantly better than that of a human, but knowing why, and how it can help us mere humans, is worth looking into.

Thanks to Ranger, Bindi, Fonzie and Paddy for showing off their noses for the photographs in this weeks blog. We have already met these dogs over the past few weeks in our ‘Celebrating Graduates’ series.

Here’s a few things that I found interesting while doing some research on dog noses:

The dogs sense of smell has evolved over time to help them survive.

Initially, nature designed their sense of smell to help them seek out food, a mate, and to know when predators were approaching.

In my house, we can see these attributes in the modern day. I have two Golden Retrievers, Jasper and Pippa. They both have a highly tuned sense of smell when it comes to sausages cooking, or the cheese packet being opened! Cassie, our first Golden, used to smell chicken from the other end of the property and come running into the kitchen every time she got the slightest whiff of it! What smells alert your dogs?

Dogs can smell separately with each nostril.

A dog will use information received by each nostril to give them a 3-D like effect of the world and where particular smells are located. Similar to what our eyes do for us, I guess.

Dogs can smell up to 100,000 times better than a human.

Michael T. Nappier DVM DABVP of the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary medicine, says “A dog’s sense of smell is its most powerful sense. It is so sensitive that dogs can detect the equivalent of 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic sized swimming pool.”

Dogs have a special scent-detecting organ that humans don’t have. This is called the vomeronasal organ. Also known as the Jacobson’s organ, it is found in many animals. It’s primary function is to detect pheremones, chemical messengers that carry information between individuals of the same species. In other words it sniffs out things that are invisible. They can, through this amazing receptor, tell if another animal is friendly or dangerous. In some cases, they can also pick up the different messages that are emitted when someone is pregnant, or ill. There have even been cases where the dog has been known to detect cancer in their owners.

A dogs noseprint is like a fingerprint.

Every single dog in the world has a different nose print, just like humans have different finger prints.

One of the things that ADNZT is able to train dogs for, is to help people who suffer from diabetes. Tracy (one of our trainers) has told me that when someone goes into a diabetic low, its because their sugar levels are dropping. The dog is trained to pick up on the different smell that comes as a result of this change. Their job is to alert the person, so they can go and do a test in order to rectify things before it gets too bad. The dogs will paw, scratch or nudge the person, depending on how they’ve been specifically trained, to make them aware they need to do something. Tracy tells me that there has been the odd occasion where the dog has been ignored, so has had to resort to jumping up and down, or spinning around in circles until they are listened to!!

Not every dog is designed for this kind of work. It takes a special set of personality traits to make a good diabetic alert dog. As the puppies are watched through their first year or so of development, their nose strength is one of the things that is taken into account as part of selecting and training the right dogs for the right jobs.

After I learned some of these things, I certainly looked at my dogs differently. They have many highly attuned senses, and smell is just one of them.

From a personal point of view, about 15 years ago, one of our departed Goldens, Meg, was a rest home visiting dog, along with her mother Cassie (the Chicken snaffler). One day at the rest home, Meg was enjoying a pat from one of the elderly gentlemen, when she suddenly looked very unsure of herself. She looked at me, and kind of folded in on herself……head down, tail between her legs. Of course, my first thoughts were for her, and thinking she might be unwell herself, but then the gentleman that had been patting her began having some kind of fit. The nursing staff were pretty quick to his aid, and Meg and I made a strategic withdrawal. But, it did get me thinking about Meg's reaction. I believe she smelt something change in him, and wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. After my research for this blog, I’m convinced of it, and wonder at what she may have been able to achieve, had she had some specialised training in the area.

The trainers at ADNZT are well aware of these abilities, and how to direct the skill in a direction needed by a client. I’m looking forward to spending some time with the trainers in the near future, so I can bring you some blogs about that area of the organisation.

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Have a great week.