Even from a block away, I could tell the dog was having a Best Day Ever moment. The dog walked with the bounce of newly melted snow, birds chirp-chirping, and a warm breeze pouring new smells from the street's nooks and crannies. Spring has finally descended on New York City, and this dog is eating it up. The dog stopped momentarily, nose pressed to something on the ground.

The woman holding the leash missed all of this. While physically attached to the dog through the leash, she was mentally attached to her phone. As the woman passed the dog getting his sniff on, the leash tightened, and the dog flew forward. The sniffing came to an abrupt end.

About the dog’s nose

Street-walked dogs are all too familiar with this scenario, but in recent years, the dog’s nose has (rightfully) been placed on the pedestal it deserves. For example, readers of Alexandra Horowitz’s 2009 New York Times Best Seller, "Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know," get a vivid look at the dog’s extraordinary nose:

“Dogs don’t act on the world by handling objects or by eyeballing them, as people might, or by pointing and asking others to act on the object (as the timid might); instead they bravely stride right up to a new, unknown object, stretch their magnificent snouts within millimeters of it, and take a nice deep sniff. That dog nose, in most breeds, is anything but subtle. The snout holding the nose projects forth to examine a new person seconds before the dog himself arrives on the scene. And the sniffer is not just an ornament atop the muzzle; it is the leading, moist headliner. What its prominence suggests, and what all science confirms, is that the dog is a creature of the nose” (p. 68-69).

An "Inside of a Dog" reader knows that dog walks are about more than excretion and exercise. For a dog, smell walks are where it's at. Horowitz explains, “The dog doesn’t care about making good time. Instead, consider the walk your dog wants.”

Borrow the dog’s nose

New fields relying on dog noses for detection and discrimination seem to pop up daily. From cows in heat to termites and bed bugs, if something has an odor, dogs can be put to the task.

At the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (@PennVetWDC), dog noses are being harnessed to distinguish ovarian cancer samples from benign ones. Veterinary students can now apply for the 2015 Veterinary Student Summer Research Internship and work on the ovarian cancer detection project (Applications due March 16, 12:00 PM ET). At Running Ponies (@BecCrew), one of my favorite Scientific American blogs, Bec Crew recently profiled dogs on an important feces-finding mission. Dogs and handlers from Working Dogs for Conservation in Montana (@WD4C) are helping scientists locate Cross River gorilla scat — “the rarest and most endangered of the world’s four gorilla subspecies.” Let’s just say the dogs were much better at the task than humans.

"My Nose," By Dog

If a dog with good penmanship were to sit down and craft "The Ultimate Guide to Dogs," I assume we’d learn loads. We'd probably start with Chapter 1, Welcome! This Is My Nose! and Chapter 2 would be a toss-up between Why I Roll in Dead Things and Where I Want to Sniff You.

This month’s posts on Dog Spies aim to give dogs one thing they probably want — for people to have a better sense of their powerful and complicated nose.

The March 2015 Dog Spies Nose-a-thon starts with "How do dogs 'see' with their noses?", a TEDEd video by Alexandra Horowitz (@DogUmwelt) with animation by Província Studio. Posted just last month, this illustrated video already has 417,353 views with 1,601 nose-y questions answered.

The Dog Spies Nose-a-thon continues tomorrow. Tune in for a unique way a dog's nose took over one woman's life. Let's just say, you might be in luck if it happened to you...

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Image: Brian Barnett Bella's Big Nose _G205462, Flickr creative commons license.


Horowitz, A. 2009. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Scribner