The incredible power of the nose of a dog.
Young Oliver had an upset tummy during the night resulting in the bedroom carpet needing a little ‘sorting out’ after midnight. Thus I was very grateful that a human’s sense of smell is very much inferior to that of the dog!
I couldn’t escape the irony that today’s post was inspired by an email from friend Dan Gomez. His email included the link to an article on the Brain Links website. It was called How a Dog Actually “Sees” the World Through Smell. Here’s how the article opened:
“The world of scents is at least as rich as the world of sight.”
Even though smell is the most direct of our senses and the 23,040 breaths we take daily drag in a universe of information — from the danger alert of a burning odor to the sweet nostalgia of an emotionally memorable scent — our olfactory powers are not even mediocre compared to a dog’s. The moist, spongy canine nose is merely the gateway into a remarkable master-machine which can detect smells in concentrations one hundred-millionth of what we humans require to smell something, and then transmute them into immensely dimensional and useful information about the world. So magnificent is the dog’s olfactory brawn — including the ability to sniff out skin, breast, bladder, and lung cancers with an astounding degree of accuracy and to literally smell fear — that to our primitive human perception it appears like nothing short of magic.
The article also included this short TED Talk but I have taken the liberty of including the paragraph that preceded the YouTube video.
How that neurobiological magic happens is what cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz — who heads the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College but has also produced a canon of invaluable insight on how we humans construct our impressions of reality — explains in this short animation from TED-Ed, based on her illuminating book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (public library):
Do go across and read the full article.
Mind you, referring back to our overnight doggy incident, I did find one paragraph slightly at odds with my personal views on the subject. It was this one:
We humans tend not to spend a lot of time thinking about smelling. Smells are minor blips in our sensory day compared to the reams of visual information that we take in and obsess over in every moment.
I’m here to tell you that at 1am yesterday morning, my sense of smell was anything other than a minor blip!
OK, before I close, I just want to alert all you dear readers to the fact that from later today until early March my son, Alex, is visiting us. His plans are to find somewhere in Oregon to enjoy some skiing but the very mild Winter so far may put a spanner in those works.
For obvious and natural reasons, writing posts for Learning from Dogs will not be a daily high priority. So if you read a number of posts previously published in earlier times you will understand why. Thank you.