Your dog can smell who’s playing at Wembley from the London Eye – vet reveals how their sense of smell is so super

One thing we all know about dogs is their incredible sniffing ability.  This is what makes them incredible service dogs and has landed them careers that we humans could only imagine being half as good at.

If you’ve ever wondered what about dogs’ noses makes them smell so acutely, grain-free dog food brand Barking Heads’ vet Dr Scott Miller shares his insight into how dogs have such strong senses of smell, and the Thin Blue Paw Foundation, a charity for retired police dogs supported by Barking Heads, shares the amazing feats their police dogs have accomplished using their noses.

How far can dogs smell?

Given that dogs are the first choice for detection jobs, we can assume they can smell specific things from a good distance through many other smells. The University of Adelaide conducted a study with the outcome that dogs can smell as far as 20km away (under perfect conditions) due to having more smell receptors that far surpass those of humans. That’s the distance from the London Eye to Wembley Arena. Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors, whilst humans have around 400, meaning their sense of smell is 750,000 times better than ours.

Are all noses built the same?

Thin Blue Paw Foundation spokesperson, Amy Ockelford, shares, “All dogs have an incredible sense of smell, so much better than humans. It’s on a completely different level.”

Although all dogs are great at sniffing, some dogs with longer snouts and higher scent receptor counts have more exceptional senses of smell than other dogs.

These super sniffers are:

  • Basset hounds
  • Bloodhounds
  • Beagles
  • German Shepherds
  •  Labrador Retrievers
  • Dachshunds
  • Springer Spaniels
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Pointers

When it comes to the dogs chosen for jobs within the police force, Amy shares that they tend to train German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Herders as they are ‘big, strong agile dogs’ that can be trained to perform well in crowded situations whilst also using their strong sense of smell.

What working dog jobs require a heightened sense of smell?

Being a police or guide dog is probably the first profession you’d think of, but dogs can have many unexpected jobs on top of these common duties.

  • Police dog 
  • Drug, cash and firearms detector dog
  • Cadaver dogs
  • Search and rescue dogs
  • Herding dogs
  • Truffle hunter
  • Wine detectors
  • Whale poop detectors
  • Newt sniffing dogs

How are police dogs trained?

When training police dogs, Amy informs us that “Some police forces have their own breeding programmes, and those puppies are bred with the sole intention of becoming police dogs. For some, training can begin as soon as they’re old enough to be away from their mums. They’ll be taken into puppy homes to begin basic training.”

But not all police dogs are trained from puppies. “We’ve seen dogs come in for police training that have been rescue dogs. They can be dogs who have had previous lives with owners and then ended up in rescue centres where staff have felt that they would make a good police dog.”

When it comes to putting their noses to work, “It starts with that obsession with a toy. Ultimately, it’s all a game – when these dogs are working, they don’t know that they’re working.

“It begins with simple training techniques such as teaching a dog to search for their favourite toy, and then the expert trainers are the ones who harness that and teach dogs how to sniff out specific items or scents – many are trained to sniff out money, drugs and firearms.”

Retired police dog Pablo served with Suffolk and Norfolk Constabulary for eight years as a cash, drugs and firearms detection dog. In that time, he sniffed out over a quarter of a million pounds worth of contraband.

So, how can you keep your dog’s sense of smell tip-top at home? Keep their nose healthy. Here’s how Dr Scott Miller recommends you do so:

“Dogs’ noses can change in how warm or cool they feel to the touch, but it is not always a fail safe guide to health.  A better indicator is their general demeanour, with a quieter or depressed canine potentially means an unwell one.

“Any discharge from the nostrils should be noted, with yellow or green indicating infection, clear or white suggesting inflammation or irritation, and a small amount of brown crusty discharge absolutely normal.  If ever you are concerned about what is coming from your canine’s all important olfactory organ (their nose) then take them along to see their Vet.”

How to scent train your dog’s nose from home

Scent training can enrich your dog’s life. You can train them to find treats around the house or garden, creating a fun game and mentally stimulating your pet.

Amy scent trains her own rescue dog at home. “I have to find ways to keep Storm occupied and keep him busy. So, we do scent games.

“He’ll do anything for a tennis ball and anything for a treat so I hide treats around the garden and get him looking for them. I think it literally does start as simply as that.”

Whether sniffing for work or play, your pup is bound to enjoy some scent training – especially if treats are involved. A dog’s scent truly is their superpower.