Animal Advice

The Senses Of A Dog: Sight, Smell, Vision, And One Sixth Sense

Here is an interesting article written by Joe Wilmore, about the six senses of our canine companions.

 The Senses Of A Dog: Sight, Smell, Vision, And One Sixth Sense

There’s a lot of misconception about dogs and scent. For instance, water (like walking in to a pond) actually makes your scent plume easier to spot for a dog. If you want to get caught, go hop in some water. If you think I’m crazy, go check out the concept of “cadaver dogs”…there are a subset of cadaver dogs who are trained to detect bodies that are submerged in water (like a drowning victim).  Water (unless it’s big and fast moving) makes it EASIER for a dog to acquire and follow your scent.

Or go climb a tree…that will be very easy for an experienced dog to spot. Even hoping over a fence (aka Cool Hand Luke) won’t fool an experienced trailing dog, it will just slow you up and a trailing dog will follow the general path and actually gain ground on you. Experienced K9 teams are trained at avoiding snakes or various kinds of traps (like bear traps) and if you’re a threat, they’ll work with police security to provide protection.
If you want to defeat dogs who are trailing you, there are a couple of things to know about scent and dogs. (While we certainly do not promote criminal activity, we believe this information could be of interest or use for someone writing a crime novel etc.)

Focus Issues

Dogs are far more discerning and accurate than any machine. But they can get distracted and they can lose focus. They aren’t machines. So one factor in your favor is anything that draws the search out and increases the likelihood that the dog loses focus or gets mentally tired.

That said, there’s a great example of a bloodhound who trailed a suspect for 20 hours…so be prepared for a LONG effort to get that dog distracted. Additionally, big dogs can get overheated very easily. So extending the search is a decent tactic.

Understand Scent

Scent varies and the behavior of scent plumes varies with the weather and temperature. Cool and wet weather (so in the morning) is ideal to find scent plumes if you’re a dog. Dry and hot weather…not as good. So if you’ve got a dog that is going to be tracking you, ideally you want to be doing this at mid-day on rocky ground that is extremely uneven.

And speaking of trailing, it matters if you’re being followed by a dog who tracks or trails. A dog who tracks will be following your footsteps. So rocky ground will be tougher for a tracking dog. A trailing dog is less likely to put nose to the ground and will often go for air scent.


Get in a car and drive away. A really good dog will be able to trail you to the point you get in the car. Although a few handlers insist their dogs have been able to trail a car for limited distances, it’s at best anecdotal evidence.

Retard the Scent

There is new gear/clothing developed for US special ops forces for use in Afghanistan to make it difficult for dogs to pick up scent when they’re moving in hostile territory. It’s now available in the commercial world. That will reduce the scent you give off but you’ll still be detectable.

Poor Start

Don’t leave a good scent article available for the dog to start with.  Underwear and used tampons are really good. In an ideal world, the handler would attempt to get your scent from a contaminated article (a seat that multiple people have sat on, a glove you were supposed to have worn last but someone else put on after you, a jacket you wore that some foolish police officers have since handled and then walked away–so the handler didn’t get a chance to eliminate them and their scents). Also, scent ages so the longer it takes for the K9 team to get started on the scent trail, the longer it would take them to pick up on your trail.


If the dog trailing you is male and isn’t very experienced, if you can get a female in-heat to cross your trail, that can work…but not with a veteran dog. If the breed of dog trailing you has a strong prey instinct that small game (squirrels, birds, cats) can all pull the dog off-scent as he/she obeys their basic DNA and chases other critters. In an urban environment with many scent trails crossing your trail, lots of different smells, you’re moving at speed, and it’s hard pavement…it’s not impossible for a good K9 team but it is tough.

Dumb handler

The dog follows your scent. But a smart handler is critical. The handler is looking at other clues, he’s reading his dog (and can tell when the dog is on-scent or has lost it and is seeking to re-acquire it), he’s savvy about scent and reading the wind and terrain to predict what the scent plumes are doing. So if you luck out and get a dumb handler, you can do things where the human either relies totally on the dog or conversely, doesn’t trust the dog/doesn’t read what the dog is telling him.

Now…all that said…if you’ve got a really strong K9 team trailing you, you’re hosed.

The Six Senses of a Canine

While a lot of us assume our animals are people just like us, it becomes difficult when we figure that the animal will be able to sense things the same way we do. Although for the most part, a majority of owners realize their pet expresses different emotions and attitudes in ways we wouldn’t automatically understand.

While a tail wag is something that most of us can recognize as a happy pup, there are other ways dogs communicate with us that not everybody knows. Their tail between their legs could mean they’re scared or anxious, while their ears pricked up could mean they are ready and alert if danger could happen. There’s a good chance they heard something they weren’t used to, so take a look around your property.

In the same way, dogs use their senses a lot differently than we do, and understanding the differences and quirks of our best friend could make the relationship easier and smoother. If your pup has a tendency to rip up all of the new pillows you get but never even looks at the old ones you’ve had for ages, there might be a reason behind their behavior.

Dog’s Behavior and What it Communicates

When thinking through the six senses we humans use every day, eyesight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, and learning how a dog uses them is adamant to understanding our animal. Keep in mind that while this article is fairly general, different breeds have different levels of use for each individual sense. A hound will generally have better vision and use it much more than, say, a dog breed such as a German Shepherd dog who is known for their amazing sense of smell.

It’s first important to realize that for humans, we tend to use our hearing, then our eyesight, and then our sense of smell. Dogs work a little bit differently, the complete opposite actually. Dogs first communicate by their sense of smell, then their sense of sight, and then, lastly, their sense of hearing.

Unique Sixth Sense that Canines Possess

On top of these three senses all animals and humans use, dogs have another important one that helps them protect and serve as police dogs and guard dogs. This is their sense of being able to feel the emotions in the room, something humans don’t automatically have. A dog can sense when you’re scared, sad or unhappy just by being in the same room as you, even if you aren’t giving off the feeling purposefully. In fact, dogs can sense anxiety from other rooms in a house, and react right when the emotion has escaped into the air.

This is important to realize if you’re under a lot of stress, as your dog will be able to sense that. If your pup has been chewing more than usual, tearing up your shoes or parts of your furniture, or doing other destructive actions, there’s a chance he can feel your energy and feels the same way because of it. It’s not a commonly known fact, but dogs don’t deal with stress and anxiety very well and typically react with a lot of barking, running and behavior that isn’t common to them. Consider your pets well-being if you need a reason to relax and unwind.

Canine’s Heightened Sense of Smell Compared with a Human’s

While a dog’s brain is much smaller than a human, around nine to ten times smaller than your average human being, the area that is responsible is much, much larger- around four times bigger. This means that a dog’s nose can be anywhere from ten thousand to a million times more sensitive than a human, so if your dog is barking for absolutely no reason, there could be a chance that he smells something funky that you can’t detect and doesn’t like it.

If the garbage truck is outside picking up your trash and you don’t realize it, your dog might, and he might react accordingly because of the foul smell. While a human has around 5 million sensors in their nose in order to detect smell, a dog has around two hundred million, so it shows why they’re so sensitive to the world around them. Through smell, dogs can tell if another dog is a girl or a boy, if they’re happy or sad, if they’ve given birth recently, and other important facts that a dog wants to know about their new friend.

Complexity of a Dog’s Eyesight

The eyes of a dog are another important body part, but a lot of misconceptions lie in their eyes. Most people believe that dogs don’t see colors at all, making them completely colorblind, but although dogs don’t see exactly how we do, that is a myth. Research has shown that dogs actually see in shades of yellow’s and shades of blue, on top of blacks and greys, so their rainbow is a little smaller than ours but not completely empty of a little bit of color.

On top of that, people always wonder how dogs think since they don’t have a language, and the answer rests in their eyes. They think in patterns of images, so although some people assume dogs don’t have thoughts at all, they do. It can be compared to the thoughts of a baby before it learns to speak.

Dog’s Enhanced Hearing  

As for hearing, a dog is deaf all the way up until they are around a month old. They’re also born with their eyes closed, so in order to move and figure out what is going on, the dog has to use smell. In the same way as their smell, dogs can hear much different and higher frequencies as humans, making them the perfect guard dog for families and law enforcement.

So next time you notice your dog barking, sniffing, perking up the ears, looking at you, or behaving anxiously, know that this is your dog’s way of communicating and interacting with the outside world. Just because we may not pick up on the same perceptions of a canine, doesn’t mean there isn’t something there to be perceived. Dogs are quite intelligent and intuitive creatures and we could all learn to inhabit these qualities as humans.

Dogs have abilities and senses us humans don’t seem to have. For more uncanny ability dogs have, click here to read about how animals may be able to predict the weather.

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