Understanding the canine olfactory system
Unlike humans who rely primarily on sight, dogs interpret the world around them through their fantastic noses. They can smell scents from far away as well as scents that have left the area completely, as their sensitive noses can detect tiny molecules carried through the air. Their brain processes scents as information, allowing them to determine whether each person, place, or thing is safe to meet or hunt, or whether it should be chased away.
This is possible thanks to the olfactory bulb: a paired structure at the base of the frontal lobes of dogs’ brains. Each side of the olfactory bulb sits atop dogs’ nasal cavities, acting as a processing plant for identifying smells and sending their information to the correct storage spaces in the brain.
Dogs’ amazing olfactory senses are also helped along by the vomeronasal organ; a hormone receptor at the roof of the mouth. This little organ is what allows dogs to identify whether other animals are friendly or not, sense the emotional state of their humans, predict seizures, and even discern different types of meats!
Benefits of scent training for dogs
As mentioned above, dogs navigate the world through smell. Therefore, it would make sense that they like to sniff as much as they can! However, the benefits of Scent Dog Training go far beyond their love of sniffing. In fact, allowing dogs to sniff can help to lower their heart rate, reduce anxiety, and build their confidence, among other positive outcomes.
When dogs are allowed to engage in activities like scent work or foraging without constant interruptions, they learn to problem solve and make sense of the world around them . This results in resilient dogs that can navigate new situations more confidently, knowing that they can identify and process the information they need to keep themselves safe.
Just as humans have shown positive responses to deep breathing for issues like stress and anxiety , a similar effect takes place in dogs whilst they sniff. Their ultra-sensitive olfactory system allows them to make sense of their surroundings, inform them whether animals, minerals or vegetables are safe to ingest, engage with or best ignored. This information, gained through scent, makes the world a less scary place; one that holds possibilities and excitement rather than uncertainty and fear.