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February 21, 2018

Did you know that your dog’s nose is more unique than yours?

Each dog’s nose print is different—and each dog’s nose has remarkable sniffing capabilities that make canines a truly special pet.

Dogs Have Unique Nose Prints

Paw prints are out and nose prints are in!

Like human fingerprints, each dog’s nose is completely unique to each pup. No two dog noses are alike. Their noses have unique bumps, dimples, and ridges that create a distinctive pattern.

These patterns can even be used to identify one dog from another. Nose printing is the most reliable form of dog tracking because a dog’s nose never changes. Collars and dog tags can be lost or changed, and even microchips can be removed. Nose prints are a painless, consistent form of doggie identification.

Just like we can fingerprint people to pull up their record or history, we could potentially do the same with dog nose prints. However, dog nose printing isn’t used widespread in America. The Canadian Kennel Club has been using dog nose prints as a form of identity since 1938, but it’s one of the only organizations that use this printing ID consistently.

Though it’s the most reliable form of ID, there isn’t a centralized database with every dog nose print. If a dog gets lost, a shelter or rescue center could nose print the dog, but if there isn’t a singular database of all dog noses, the identification can’t be matched back to an owner. Some dog trainers and breeders record dog nose prints for their records, but these are usually not linked to a broader archive. 

Without a mainstream implementation of dog nose printing, it’s hard to use this as the only method of identification. You want to still microchip your dog and collar him with appropriate tags.

How Your Dog’s Remarkable Nose Is Like A Fingerprint chocolate lab nose upclose

How To Nose Print Your Dog 

Nevertheless, you may want to take your dog’s nose print just in case. If your dog were to get lost, you have a secure backup method of identification just in case. Plus, a cute nose print makes a great piece of artwork for your home! 

  1. Clean your dog’s nose with a dry, fresh towel.
  2. Soak a paper towel in any color food dye. Dab on your dog’s nose gently. Try not to let him lick off the dye.
  3. Press a piece of paper over your dog’s nose. Push gently but don’t rub. Make sure the paper touches all parts of his nose, including the sides.
  4. You may need to try a few times to get the right amount of dye and pressure. Try to minimize your dog’s squirming as much as possible.
  5. After you have a decent print, gently wash your dog’s nose with a clean, damp washcloth.

Beyond your dog’s unique nose print, your pup’s nose has unbelievable capabilities of scent and sensing. Keep reading to learn more about all the wonders of your dog’s nose!

The Canine Olfactory Experience Of The World

Have you ever wondered why dogs sniff everything? That’s because smell is the dog’s greatest sense. They use their nose in the same way we use sight and touch to understand and comprehend the world around us. Dogs rely on their extensive sense of smell to experience people, places, dogs, and things around them.

Scent Receptors

Dogs are about 10,000 times more sensitive to smells than humans.

Humans have approximately 5 million scent receptors, and we can detect about 1 trillion odors. Dogs, though, have an average of 220 million olfactory receptors. This varies by dog, from 125 million in Dachshunds to up to 300 million in Bloodhounds. Nevertheless, if humans can detect nearly 1 trillion smells with only 5 million receptors, imagine all the smells your dog—with over 44x more receptors—can experience on a daily basis!

The spongy membrane that holds scent receptors is called the turbinate. This holds the nerves that send olfactory information to the brain. In humans, the turbinate membrane is about the size of a postage stamp. In dogs, this area can total the size of an entire letter size paper.

The canine brain is smaller than the human brain, but the olfactory smell area is nearly 40x larger than the human brain. Your dog’s sense of smell is incomprehensible to us mere humans.

Stereoscopic Nose

Dog’s nostrils are stereoscopic. This means they can take in two scents at once in a “stereo effect.” This duality of scent not only helps them identify smells, but it also helps them locate the odor in the physical world. This is how search dogs are able to find missing people or TSA dogs can sniff out explosives in the airport.

Dog noses also have slits on the side. This isn’t a cosmetic quirk. Dogs actually use these slits for exhalation. They inhale through their nostrils and exhale through the sides of their nose. This creates a circulation of air that helps them smell. While humans spend half of their time exhaling, dogs are constantly inhaling new scents and smells.

The dog snout is also longer than a human’s. This moves air more rapidly towards the scent receptors. This enables dogs to quickly detect new scents with a constant stream of odorous air.

P.S. Your dog’s nose is wet to help him pick up on odors. The lateral glands on the nose secrete a fluid that keeps the nasal canals lubricated to better detect scents. If your dog gets dehydrated, his nose will start to dry out and he won’t be able to pick up on smells as well. Learn more about preventing dog dehydration here

How Your Dog’s Remarkable Nose Is Like A Fingerprint miniature dachshund sniffing the ground on white background

The Benefits Of The Nose

The dog’s powerful nose brings with it a number of advantages for both dogs and humans. Below are just some of the examples of the powerful capabilities of the canine nose.

Dogs can tell time.

If you didn’t have a watch, you could tell the approximate time of day with cues from the external world. You could look at the position of the sun in the sky or notice the change in temperature.

Similarly, dogs can determine the time of day based on the smells in their environment. Although our noses can’t pick up on it, the smell of a room or environment will change throughout the day. For example, the smell of heat is more prevalent in the middle of the day than the evening.

Dogs can also tell how long a scent has been around. This helps them orient themselves throughout the day by understanding the age of certain scents. This is how your dog knows the approximate time you’ll be home from work, and he’ll start to get ready for you by the door.

Dogs can predict the weather.

Dogs can smell and sense changes in barometric pressure and weather patterns. Have you ever been able to pick up on the “scent of rain?” Dogs can do that all the time—and at a much earlier and intense reception.

If your dog starts getting anxious inexplicably, he may have a fear of storms. Learn more about pet anxiety here.

Dogs can smell cancer.

Research has shown that cancerous cells emit particular gases that the dog nose can detect. There have been a number of recorded cases where dogs bark or lick at a human’s part of the body, and the human later finds a tumor in that exact spot. Studies have found pups are especially good at detecting prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and melanoma.

Some medical groups are even starting to use dogs as a quick way to do an analysis of cancer detection. Some dogs can be specifically trained to actively sniff out cancer in the same way they can sniff out drugs or explosives.

Diabetic alert dogs (DADs) are also used to help keep track of a human’s diabetic insulin changes. These dogs can smell when blood sugar is too high or low, and they can alert their owner appropriately. Some dogs can also sense and warn against an epileptic seizure before it occurs.

Note that this canine cancer or diabetes detection isn’t completely proven or mainstream yet, so don’t rely on your dog to maintain your health.

Dogs can tell if you’re friend or foe.

Dogs communicate through scent. They have a particular type of scent receptor called the vomeronasal organ or “Jacobson’s organ”. This can sniff out pheromones in other dogs and humans. This helps dogs identify potential mates and discern between friends and predators (in both human and canine form).

If your dog is unusually barking at a stranger, it might be a sign that the dog is sensing negative pheromones from that person. You may want to be wary!

Dogs can smell your emotions.

The scent receptors in the Jacobson’s organ also help dogs recognize different emotional states in humans.

Dogs don’t have the same emotional spectrum that humans do, although dogs do feel some emotion. However, dogs are actually able to smell when a human is angry, sad, or happy. This is often why your dog may be a little cuddlier on days where you’re not feeling so great. Some dogs are used as emotional support in this way, especially for humans with varying forms of PTSD.

Learn more about the superpowers of the dog with Alexandra Horowitz’ book “ Being A Dog.”

The Bottom Line

Dogs rely on their noses. With a unique nose print and a remarkable sense of smell, the dog nose is one of the most powerful parts of your pup.

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