dog sniffing outdoors

Everyone knows that dogs excel at sniffing out and reacting to odors that we can’t detect. Knowing that dogs have such a powerful sense of smell is one thing, but understanding just how strong their noses are is another.

On average, dogs can smell odors from distances up to 20 km (12.4 miles) away. Their noses aren’t limited to above-ground scents either; they can also sniff out something buried 40 feet underground. Their ability to sniff out scents over long distances does vary, though. Weather conditions like wind and rain, the terrain, and even the dog’s age and health can all make sniffing out certain scents more difficult.

Dogs don’t just excel at smelling over long distances either; their noses enable them to pick out your scent in a room filled with people — even if you try to hide with strong cologne.

Why Are Dog’s Noses So Strong?

Unlike us, dogs can breathe and smell at the same time, which is one of the reasons that their noses are so adept at picking out scents. They have two air passages in their noses. One goes to their lungs, while the other leads to a “smelling chamber,” where about 12% of their air intake gets stored and analyzed. It’s here that your dog breaks down odors and focuses on scents that they’re familiar with, like yours.

Dogs also have more smell receptors than we do. The Bloodhound, known to be one of the best sniffer dogs in the world, has about 300 million scent receptors compared to our meager 6 million. Their smell receptors aren’t the only way that they win over us. The portion of their brain dedicated to processing scents is 40% larger than our own.

With all these advancements, it might seem like dogs are unsurpassed when it comes to their noses, but they’re not infallible. There are a few things that can interfere with your dog’s ability to sniff out a scent:

  • Age
  • A dry nose
  • Fatigue
  • Health
  • Training
  • Weather conditions
small dog sniffing on grass
Image courtesy of Pixabay

What Can a Dog’s Sense of Smell Be Used For?

When you consider how adept at smelling that dogs are, it’s not surprising that they play an important role in certain jobs. A dog’s nose can make up for human shortcomings and make our lives easier. Some of the jobs that dogs can do might even surprise you!


One of the most important jobs that dogs can do is to alert their handlers to medical issues. As one of the most relied-on animals in the world, service dogs are specially trained to recognize particular scents.

Their training can teach them to recognize issues like low blood sugar, oncoming seizures, or migraines and alert their handlers. Some dogs have even sniffed out cancer.

Hunting and Tracking

In the wild, many predators rely on their noses to sniff out prey. Canines are no different, and wolves in particular will track their next meal with their nose. Domestication doesn’t mean our dogs have lost this ability. Many breeds help their owners during hunts by sniffing out game animals.

With the right training, dogs can be taught to track other scents too. Police dogs will sniff out bombs, drugs, or criminals escaping from a crime scene, while search-and-rescue teams can track people lost on a mountain.

Whale Research

Perhaps one of the strangest jobs that dogs can do is sniff out whale poop for researchers to analyze. Whale poop is used to gather information on the health and well-being of whales in an area, but it’s not easy to find because it only floats for half an hour. With trained dogs on board the boat, researchers have been able to find samples up to 1.2 miles away!

viszla dog sniffing grass
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Which Dog Breeds Have the Best Noses?

Different breeds were bred with different purposes in mind, which can play a part in how strong their noses are. While it can depend on the dog as an individual, dogs bred for companionship might not have as strong of a nose as one of the working dog breeds.

This list isn’t all inclusive, but some of the best sniffers out there are:

  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Black and Tan Coonhounds
  • Bluetick Coonhounds
  • Bloodhounds
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Dachshunds
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers


In perfect conditions, dogs can smell over distances up to 20 km away and 40 feet underground. Their noses can also pick out individual scents amid a variety of other odors, which enables them to focus on and track certain smells. Weather conditions, terrain, the type of odor, and your dog’s age and health can all interfere with their ability to smell long distances.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Shutterstock