How dogs smell. Curious facts about dog's nose, how they detect scent, disease, what can affect dog ability to smell. (C) Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog by Natalia Ashton / Canine nutritionist, pet nutrition coach, all about English cocker spaniels, grooming, training, diet, puppy tips. Photo of Cooper, English cocker spaniel with snow on his nose.

Dog’s nose | Curious facts beyond the boop

It’s not just for cute boops… A dog’s nose is probably one of the most fascinating things about them. So much so that I am dedicating another post to the dog’s nose and incredible sense of smell. 

I love watching my boys noses, how they follow an invisible story, the tiny twitches, the hunger of the unknown and exciting information they greedily breathe in. They are both into this ritual, yet I often wonder how Coop and Fred perceive this world based on their experiences of scents.

Coop is certainly a good sniffer, but the boy is mostly interested in pee mail. And flowers. Fred, on the other hand, has the nose of canine dreams! He doesn’t care about the mail, but he always informs me if somebody we know is around the corner, a dog just walked through the village, or there’s a cat, bunny or pheasant nearby (by “nearby” I mean distance on Fred’s sniffing terms – it covers miles…) And both are definitely aware of food smells and do react to any emotional and hormone-related changes in us.

We know that dogs rely on their sense of smell and hearing more than vision. Does it mean that even my chaps, whilst being canines, would actually see the world around us as two completely different environments? The geek in me keeps playing with this idea a lot. 

But is it exactly that makes a dog’s nose so unique?

It has about 250 million receptors responsible for detecting scents. Humans only have 5 million. We are pretty basic.

Dogs can bond with their littermates and humans through scent and detest strangers and non-litter pups because of it. In a study a dog was presented with 5 different scents including his own, a familiar human, a strange human, a familiar dog and a strange dog. Only the scent of the familiar human triggered the response in the brain area responsible for positive emotions, rewards and “romantic interactions”. In other words, the pups knew who is responsible for the biscuits. 

Even more fascinating, dogs can differentiate between two identical twins if the twins were fed different diets or raised in different environments.

If a teaspoon of sugar was dissolved in two Olympic-sized swimming pools, dogs would be able to smell it. 

Dog’s ability to sniff is breed-dependent. In a 1965 experiment by Scott and Fuller, a mouse was left in an acre-sized field. Beagles located it within a minute. A fox terrier took 15. A Scotty literally stood by the mouse and still failed to see it. I suspect if a bloodhound (the clear champion of sniffing) was around he’d be by that mouse in seconds.

Cockers, on the other hand, proved themselves as fabulous drug detectors.

Dogs can track a person days after his or her disappearance as long as there’s about 1/1000 of human scent left on the ground. 

They can also confirm or deny if two odours are from the same source, identify separate ingredients in a bowl of soup, or detect substances used in explosions despite the presence of any debris. 

Dogs can smell cancer, covid, changes in blood sugar or body pre-seizure. 

A blind dog will always follow his nose. It is what can help him adjust to his new life and stay tuned in without panicking.

Dogs smell better in humid conditions, and struggle to smell effectively when they feel really hot.

Dogs who frequently eat coconut oil may have a reduced ability to detect scents

And canines diagnosed with hyperadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism, or diabetes can also struggle to use their nose as nature intended.


Next time you look at your pup’s snout, take a moment to appreciate its wonders that we will never experience or truly comprehend… And follow your dog’s nose…



Photo credit: Cooper photographed by me

Probiotics and probiotics in dog diet, importance of friendly bacteria for canine health. Does my dog need supplements? How to add probiotics and probiotics to dog diet? Advice from canine nutritionist and dog nutrition coach. Perfect cocker spaniel. Blog about English cocker spaniels, grooming, training, diet, puppy care, behaviour and more

A simple way to keep your dog healthy for longer

Want to keep your dog healthy for longer? Here’s another diet secret that you need to know…

Aging changes many things including the gut – it may become thicker and less able to move and absorb food efficiency. It can also change the levels of good and bad bacteria that help to control inflammation, reduce the risk of many illnesses, support strong immunity and even have effects on behavior (Pilla et al, 2020, Baum, 2007, Masuoka et al, 2017, Mondo et al 2020)

How can you help? Use age-appropriate diets that contain probiotics (good bacteria) and, importantly, PREBIOTICS (they feed the good bacteria)

In the test study dogs fed commercial food with probiotics not only showed improved levels of good bacteria, but also much lower levels of inflammation markers (known as C-reactive protein). The dog from the non-prebiotic group had high levels of C-reactive protein), higher levels on bad bacteria and lower levels of good bacteria.

So besides checking if your dog food is age-appropriate and complete, look for FOS, MOS and probiotics on the product label.

Do not be tempted to DIY with supplements. It is not a good idea to experiment with pre- and probiotics unless you were specifically prescribed them by your vet.

Do include food sources of pre- and probiotics alongside the main diet as treats (10% or less of your dog’s daily intake) – natural yoghurt, kefir, dandelion leaves, apples and oats (my Beyond the doughnut cookbook has some yummy oat-based recipes)


Photo credit: bacteria by Gert Altmann via Pixabay

Benefits and risks of raw honey in canine diet / dog nutrition and healthy home made treats for dogs / canine nutritionist in UK / perfect cocker spaniel / dog blog about English cocker spaniels, tips on grooming, hand-stripping, diet, nutrition, food, health, raising a cocker spaniel puppy (C) Natalia Ashton

Can my dog eat… honey?

“Honey” may be one of the sweetest names for a golden cocker spaniel puppy, but it is also one of my favourite “superfoods” and natural ailments.

Nutritionally, about 40% of honey is fructose, 40% – glucose, 15% – water and 5% – other sugars plus 80 trace vitamins and minerals including B, C, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, potassium, iodine, sodium, copper, manganese, zinc, boron, silver and silica. Manuka honey also contains some proteins and fatty acids.

No wonder that honey is praised for its antibacterial properties, source of energy, and an ability to maintain healthy digestive, nervous, immune and skeletal systems, support haemoglobin levels, improve memory function and aid natural detoxification.

Studies that were done on humans or rats linked manuka honey to the blood sugar control, reduced risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and several cancers.

In dogs, a 2016 pilot study concluded that medical grate manuka honey could be used for treatment of ear infections (but please do discuss this with your vet before going ahead!)

But can the dogs really eat honey?

The answer is… IT DEPENDS.

Whilst a little honey may be beneficial for healthy adult dogs without underlying health conditions, it should not be given to overweight and obese dogs, dogs who have diabetes, and must never be fed to puppies under 12 months of age or any dog with the weakened immune system.

Raw honey may contain botulism spores (two other common sources are raw meat and carcasses of dead animals) and be potentially fatal. Adult dogs are resistant to the bacterium, but neither puppies, nor ill dogs have enough natural defences for protection.

The spores cause paralysis, extreme salivation, vision problems, runny eyes, difficulty swallowing and breathing and death due to either paralysis of the heart or lungs. If a dog does recover, he requires maintenance therapy for life. First symptoms may take between a few hours to up to 6 days to develop and often begin with weakness in rear legs that appear within 24 hours after ingestion of the spores.

For this reason, all puppy parents must check any foods or treats for presence of honey and avoid them until their dog’s first birthday. It is also essential to check that grooming products, especially balms and creams, you use for a puppy are free from both honey and beeswax (cera alba).

The good news is dogs naturally love honey (because they do love anything sweet) and honey may provide some goodness for all healthy grown-up canines, so treat them to a 1/4 tsp (cocker spaniel size) of good quality raw honey a few times a weeks without worried.


Adapted from Beyond the Doughnut: 30 meals & treats your dog will love.


Photo credit: Karsten Masden and Florian Kurz via pixabay