I’ve always been intrigued by the anatomy of a dog’s nose - its texture, shape, and function. Dogs “see” through smell. When a dog is born, its sense of smell will develop first, followed by hearing, and then sight. A dog will navigate life using these senses in this order with all the wonders of the world entering between two little slits.


A dog’s sense of smell is much greater than a human’s sense of smell - as much as 10,000 to 100,000 times greater! One of the reasons is because dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses. We humans have around 6 million. Even the parts of the brain that are assigned to smell are up to 40 times greater in dogs than their owners. This is because dogs have the vomeronasal organ near the roof of their mouth that takes smell to another level. This organ (also called Jacobson’s organ) is connected to a separate part of the brain that allows a dog to detect specific compounds. I personally would enjoy that level of smell perception, but in humans the vomeronasal is non-functional.


The surface of a dog’s nose reminds me of a Coach pebble-leather purse. If you have one, you know what I mean. What you may not know is that the texture of each dog’s nose is unique in the way human fingerprints are distinctive. When a dog’s environment changes, the texture of his nose also changes. Knowing what your dog’s nose looks like normally will help to identify any health problems. Wet noses are not an indication of your dog’s health. Instead, be aware of any changes in texture, color, crusting, bleeding, or peeling of your dog’s nose. Also look for an increase in nasal discharge. Make a veterinarian appointment if you have concerns. Your dog’s ability to safely move throughout their world is greatly dependent on the health of their olfactory senses.



Have you ever wondered why there are slits on either side of the nose? As air goes into the nose, some of it goes to the lungs and some of it is used for olfactory analysis. As a dog exhales, new odors are drawn into the nose through these slits to produce a constant flow of information.


A dog’s snout has two nasal chambers that open into each nostril. These two nostrils can wiggle independently and take in different smells separately. Mucus in the nasal cavity traps particles while receptors process the scent. That’s why a dog’s wet nose provides the perfect environment for scent molecules to stick and dissolve, allowing your dog to decipher each smell.


Have you ever thought about how a dog knows that it’s time to eat at the same time every day? In fact, I feed my dogs around 5:30 and it never fails that they will remind me it’s time to eat. How do they know this? Well, studies have shown that as the day progresses, so will the smells or odors that the dog is sensing. So, the dog recognizes the 5:30 “smell” and realizes its feeding time because of what his olfactory is sensing. This makes sense, because during daylight savings time switchover, my dogs still know when it’s time to eat. AMAZING!


The next time you are out with your dog, notice how many different smells or stories your dog is processing in their nose and brain. Many times, my dogs will intensely “study” the scent or odor and then “mark” or leave a scent of their own. What is happening here? Dogs use urine to mark territory– to leave a message, so to speak. Then other dogs come along and check the message and may leave a message of their own by marking over or adjacent to the original spot. There’s a lot of interesting information in these messages, and by checking “pee mail,” a dog can determine the gender of the dogs who came before and whether they are spayed or neutered. He can also tell if there’s a female in heat or coming into heat, as well as determine the health, stress level, and social status of the dogs who have previously marked the spot. Unless you are in training mode, let them experience, sniff, smell, and enjoy all the wonders of the day - together!


A dog’s intricate sense of smell is fascinating. It can identify contraband or find a missing person. It can detect bombs for the military or smell disease in humans. A dog’s nose can also detect fear, sadness, or anxiety. There are so many important and even life-saving tasks that dogs perform for us with the use of their amazing noses! This is another reason why they have earned the title man’s best friend!

1 comment

  • I love this article. I have a deaf and almost blind dog and she often wakes up when I come in the room with her nose twitching. She knows I am there because she smells me.


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