As if we didn’t need another reason to confirm dogs are the coolest creatures on earth, we now learn that dogs can detect cancer and tell time with their nose.
Alexandra Horowitz, canine cognition expert, explains the power and complexity of dogs’ olfactory senses in her new book, Being a Dog.
Dogs obviously have a much stronger sense of smell than us humans - this is why our canine companions are used to sniff out drugs and explosives, among other things. But did you know many dogs can detect melanoma (skin cancer) cells on their owner?
As Horowitz confirmed in an NPR interview, “there's been a budding research program in training dogs to detect various cancers on the breath, in urine, in blood and on the skin. Most of these programs report very high levels of success.”
Why is the canine sense of smell so much more powerful than ours? Biology.
Dogs “possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us,” Peter Tyson from PBS explains, “and the part of a dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours.”
Dogs can also tell time with their noses. Yes, you read that correctly.
Not only can dogs differentiated between a new and old odor, dogs actually analyze the scent of the air to determine what time of day it is.
“If we were able to visualize the movement of air through the day,” says Horowitz, “what we're really visualizing is the movement of odor through the day.” Dogs detect the movement of odor throughout the day and simultaneously determine time. This also explains why dogs sometimes reach strangely when a storm is approaching. Unlike us humans, they see the storm coming from a mile away.
NPR published the original interview with author Alexandra Horowitz in October 2016