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Home > Dogs > 10 Fascinating Facts About Your Dog’s Nose

10 Fascinating Facts About Your Dog’s Nose

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs are amazing creatures, thanks in part to their noses! Canines have millions more scent receptors than humans, and their noses are 100,000 times more sensitive than ours. They can even smell the time of day and how long it’s been since their favorite person left the couch.

But not all dogs have the same keen sense of smell. Pugs don’t typically fare as well as beagles when sniffing things out. Keep reading to learn 10 fascinating facts about your dog’s nose.

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The 10 Fascinating Facts About Dog’s Noses

1. Dogs Have Around 200 Million Scent Receptors

Dogs have stunning senses of smell. The average dog has approximately 200 million smell receptors in their nose; most humans only have around 5 million. But some, particularly hounds and working breeds, have exceptional abilities in the sniffing department.

close up of white and tan dog's nose
Image Credit: PICNIC-Foto-Soest, Pixabay

2. Dogs Tell Time With Their Noses

Scientists believe that dogs can actually tell time1 with their noses! If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the smells in your home change over the course of the day. Air rises as it warms, resulting in the creation of indoor currents that carry odors.

Dogs pay attention to these shifts and learn to link these changes in smell to the passage of time. Your dog can also discern how long you’ve been gone based on the strength of your lingering smell. And when outside, they sniff everything in sight as it tells them who’s been hanging out nearby.

3. Dogs With Strong Noses Often Have Jobs

German Shepherds, Labrador retrievers, beagles, basset hounds, harriers, Scottish terriers, and Belgian malinois all have super keen senses of smell—many work as search and rescue and detection dogs. Beagles often work on United States Customs and Border Patrol teams as agricultural detection “officers,” and German shepherds often support narcotic and explosive detection teams.

Labradors and other sporting breeds have started to gain traction as detection dogs, as they’re friendly and have great noses but tend to be less intimidating to the public. Some Labradors and shepherds can detect diseases such as diabetes and cancer just by the smell.

dog sniffing the bag on airport
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

4. Dogs Have Unique Nose Prints

Each dog’s nose has its own patterns of folds, dots and creases unique to that animal. Nose prints provide such specific identification that the Canadian Kennel Club accepted them as identification until 1992, when the switch was made to requiring tattoos or microchips.

Korean researchers evaluated the nose prints of 10 dogs and determined that dog noses are indeed unique. They also discovered that nose print patterns are completely formed when dogs reach around 2 months old and that once set, the whirls, dots, folds, and ridges don’t change as dogs grow or age.

5. Dogs Sniff In, Out, and While Breathing

When dogs sniff, they breathe in and out simultaneously, creating a continuous flow of scent molecule-laden air over their nasal scent receptors. And to make things even more impressive, dogs can breathe in and out while at the same time allowing air to cycle over their scent organs.

After air enters a dog’s nostrils, some goes to their lungs, and some flows to the back of their nasal cavity, where it washes over the resident scent receptors. When sniffing, your dog sends more air to the part of their nose packed with olfactory receptors. Sniffed air flows outward from the curled slits on the side of your dog’s nose.

sniffing dog
Image Credit: Alex Zotov, Shutterstock

6. Dogs Smell Like Humans See

Dogs rely on smell more than humans can imagine. Their sense of smell is more important to dogs than vision is for humans. Dogs’ brains have about 40% more space dedicated to interpreting scent signals than human brains. A stunning 1/8th of your dog’s brain is dedicated to perceiving and interpreting scent.

Dogs can even smell in 3D thanks to this extra brain capacity and the ability to pick up and interpret scent signals from both nostrils separately, which provides your dog with two slightly different molecular scent profiles to interpret.

7. A Dry Nose Doesn’t Always Mean Your Dog Is Ill

Dogs usually have cold, wet noses, which leads many pet parents to become concerned when their dog’s nose feels hot and dry, thinking it could be a sign that their buddy isn’t feeling well. While a dry, hot nose can sometimes indicate illness, it’s often just a function of your dog licking their nose a bit less.

Dogs running fevers often have dry, hot noses, but there are some illnesses, such as the flu, that cause fevers and wet, running noses. Have your buddy checked out by their veterinarian if they start licking their nose more than usual, feel hot to the touch, and begin sneezing or coughing.

8. Dogs Also Smell With Their Mouths

Dogs have a second scent organ, the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ. It stretches between your dog’s nasal cavity and their mouth, opening close to your dog’s front teeth. The organ’s nerves connect directly to your dog’s brain and don’t detect the same range of smells as those in your dog’s nose.

Your dog’s Jacobson’s organ allows them to detect scents that are entirely odorless to humans. Dogs often lick their noses to bring scent molecules closer to their Jacobson’s organ. When dogs flare their nostrils and sort of smile, they’re actually smelling with their mouths. The Jacobson’s organ is sensitive to pheromones, particularly those involved in mating.

dog in the grass licking nose
Image Credit: 753204, Pixabay

9. Wet Noses Help Collect Odors

Your dog’s nose naturally produces mucus to moisten their delicate nasal passages. Some of that mucus helps the outside of your pet’s nose stay nice and wet. Having a hydrated nose is so important to dogs; they’ll often lick their nose to get it nice and slobbery.

Watch your dog the next time they encounter an interesting scent. If they’re like most dogs, your pet will take a few sniffs and then lick their nose. Not only does this hydrate the outside of your dog’s nose, but it also improves their sense of smell, as moisture makes it easier for dogs’ nasal receptors to detect scent.

10. Dogs Recognize Their Mothers By Scent

Newborn puppies are born totally defenseless. They can’t see or hear until they’re around 10 to 14 days old, but they arrive in this world with their sense of smell fully intact. Newborn dogs that can’t see or hear can nevertheless find their mothers in seconds through smell.

All dogs produce pheromones that provide information about that animal’s gender, health, age, and reproductive status. Pheromones even carry information about things like diet and health. It’s part of what makes up each dog’s personal scent signature. Dogs that can’t see recognize their mother and littermates by smell. They have scent memory, allowing them to instantly identify their mother after years of separation.



Dogs have astonishing noses and can smell up to 100,000 times better than humans. Dogs use this supersense to pick up information about other animals, including how long ago they happened to be in the neighborhood, and even to determine the time of day.

Dogs are so talented with their noses that they can identify conditions such as cancer and diabetes just by smell. And breeds that have particularly strong smelling abilities, such as beagles and labradors, often work on search and rescue and agricultural product detection teams.


Featured Image Credit: Miranda, Pixabay

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