Why Do Dogs Love Stinky Smells?

April 29, 2014

By Linda Cole

One advantage we have over dogs is our ability to see things crystal clear, including a wide spectrum of colors. One of life’s simple pleasures is watching a beautiful sunset on a summer night. Dogs view their world not with their eyes but through an acute sense of smell that puts us to shame. I’m frequently amazed at how certain smells capture my dogs’ attention; even the smell of a bug or earthworm crawling through their pen. Dogs are individuals, and have special smells that get their attention more than others.

My dogs rarely beg at mealtimes because they know no matter how much they whine, they aren’t going to get any of my food. But the minute I bring out the CANIDAE Pure Heaven biscuits, I suddenly become their favorite human. It’s amazing how fast they sit and politely wait when there are goodies in my pocket. They know the smell of their favorite treats, and react with the very best manners they have. A dog’s sense of smell is so good, scientist say canines can detect most odors in concentrations of parts per trillion, which explains how my dogs know someone is grilling outside before I can smell it.

One of the things I enjoy when walking the dogs is the look of excitement on their face when they come across an interesting smell. Now, you might not think sniffing every inch of a dried up leaf would be that interesting, but it is to dogs. It might contain the scent of a mouse that crawled over it, “pee mail” from another dog, or a slime trail left by a slug or snail. There’s a whole library of information hidden in the underbrush and grass, or along a hiking trail. This smorgasbord of smells provides plenty of mental stimulation for a dog’s mind.

Sometimes the stinkier a smell, the more exciting it is for a dog. Natural instincts are behaviors that have been passed on to dogs from the wolf. Rolling around on dead animals is a survival instinct wolves use to hide their scent to give them the advantage when hunting. For dogs, rolling on stinky things transfers the smell to him, and leaves his scent on what he rolled on. So he’s hiding his scent and leaving it as another way of marking territory. It may seem nasty to us, but it’s perfectly natural to dogs.

We all have our own individual odor mixed with scents that are confusing to dogs. Soap, shampoo, perfume, toothpaste and deodorant don’t impress dogs. To them we don’t smell fresh and clean because the smells they are interested in are sweat, body oils, and areas of the body that give them information about us. A wolf pack recognizes each individual member of the family because of his/her smell, and dogs have retained this basic instinct.

Canines can pick out their owner in a crowd of people because of our unique and individual smell. Everything we touch contains our scent, and that’s why dogs steal clothing, the TV remote, album covers or DVDs. Our scent makes them feel secure and happy. They don’t chew on items they’ve swiped out of malice – they chew them up because that’s how important and special our smell is to dogs. Instead of getting mad, take it as an expression of love, then make sure to put things you don’t want your dog to chew on up where he can’t get them.

The scenting ability of dogs is what makes a Bloodhound an effective tracker, how search and rescue dogs can find people buried under rubble or snow, and cadaver dogs can find bodies. Archeology dogs search the ground to find ancient bones buried long ago. We use dogs to find cancer, bed bugs, drugs, explosives and endangered animals, to detect diabetes, traces of peanuts, invasive plants and animals that don’t belong in a habitat, and to track whales in the ocean.

Training dogs to decipher specific information to do these jobs wouldn’t be possible without a dog’s incredible sense of smell. And the stinkier it is, the more interesting of a smell it seems to be for canines.

Hunters have used dogs for centuries to help put food on the table, because they are much better at finding prey than we are. Adrenaline is produced when humans and animals are in a “flight or fight” situation, and dogs can smell it. The stinky smells dogs seem to be drawn to are based on our interpretation of what stinks. To dogs, these smells give them valuable information they need to do the jobs we train them to do.

Top photo by Alan Levine
Middle photo by Tony Alter
Bottom photo by Robyn Jay

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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