Unlike our human noses, dogs’ noses don’t just pick up the strongest scent in a room or a yard. They smell every scent. Compare it to the way we hear. We humans can hear lots of different sounds in one place— voices on the television, a dishwasher running, and the click clack of fingers on a computer keyboard. A dog will walk into a room and be able to smell the cat that just ran by, the candy wrapper you threw away in the garbage and the dirty clothes on the bottom of your closet. How do they do it?
Dogs have at least 200,000 more olfactory receptors in their nose than humans do. Their sense of smell is roughly 1,000 times greater than ours. But it takes more than a nose to make a great sniffer dog. These dogs have drive! Successful sniffers aren’t dogs who sit on the couch all day long and then enjoy a short game of fetch in the evening. Sniffer dogs want to play all the time. They have the stamina and the desire to work all day in difficult conditions. Why do they work so hard? Most do it for the play reward at the end of the job. When a conservation canine finds that hard-to-find orca whale scat in the ocean, or when a search dog has located a missing person, or when an accelerant detection dog alerts to a chemical, they are rewarded with the throw of a ball or a tug on a toy.
Like all jobs, a sniffer dog’s job requires training. These dogs and their handlers go through hours and hours of practice. Even after they are certified as sniffer dogs, their training doesn’t stop. Some continue practicing and perfecting their skills every week. All of them need to stay sharp to keep their certifications.
Dogs help us see, stay safe, and search. They rescue us from danger. They even help protect the planet. Dogs truly are our “best friends.”
Tomorrow Sarah Albee is going to fill you in on the unsavory activities of a famous Renaissance painter who just couldn't behave himself.