We all know that dogs have a super sense of smell. Some have 220 million or more olfactory receptors, compared to a puny 5 million for humans. But do some dog breeds and groups — such as Herding dogs, Hounds, Hunting dogs, Sporting dogs — “smell” better than others? Here are our picks of the canine best smellers.
Hunters admire the Pointer for his bird-finding ability and say he has the best nose of all the pointing breeds. He has a long, deep muzzle with wide-open nostrils he uses to seek out his feathered finds.
Like his cousin the Pointer, the German Shorthair has outstanding scenting and trailing ability in the field. Holding his large brown nose low, he follows ground scent intensely, unlike the Pointer, who runs with his head up. A German Shorthair named Google works in Costa Rica scenting out jaguar scat to help researchers study the species.
The various Coonhound breeds — Black and Tan, Bluetick, English, Plott, Redbone, and Treeing Walker — all have highly effective noses but different styles of scenting. Some have “hot” noses, meaning they work best on a fresh trail, while others are said to be “cold-nosed,” able to follow an old, or “cold,” trail with little trouble.
This popular sporting dog comes in two types — field-bred and show-bred. Field-type Springers are highly prized by hunters for their good nose, which is liver-colored or black with broad nostrils. English Springers have been trained to detect such diverse odors as explosives, narcotics, fake currency, bee hives, and human remains.
Commonly employed by police and military forces and as search and rescue dogs, this breed is well known for his keen sense of smell. Among the breed’s talents are the ability to sniff out explosives, prostate cancer and cheetah scat.
The Lab is the most popular breed in the United States. Besides being a great companion dog, he is best known for his fine nose. Labs are found working in many scent-related jobs, from arson, drug and bomb detection to search and rescue.
This well-known herding breed is said to have 225 million scent receptors in his nose. One of the things he’s known for is his ability to air-scent. Rather than keeping his nose to the ground, he casts about for human scent that is carried by the wind. A good German Shepherd is highly versatile, and many are employed by the police, military, and search and rescue groups.
He might be one of the smallest of the hound breeds, but the Beagle has just as many scent receptors as the German Shepherd. Many of the merry little hounds follow air and ground scent. The Beagle’s scenting ability makes him popular not only with hunters but also with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which employs the dogs to detect contraband (especially food items) in airports. Beagles who have been on the job for a while have a 90 percent success rate and can recognize nearly 50 distinct odors.
2. Basset Hound
Of French origin, the Basset is built to follow a scent trail. He’s low to the ground — hence his name, from the French word bas, meaning “low” — and his long, heavy ears sweep the ground, bringing scent upward to his powerful nose. The loose skin beneath his chin, known as a dewlap, helps to trap the scent, keeping it easily accessible as he works. According to the American Kennel Club, the Basset is second only to the Bloodhound in scenting ability.
This giant hound has 300 million scent receptors — more than any other breed. He is famed for his man-trailing abilities and is so reliable his evidence is admitted in court. Bloodhounds can not only follow a scent on the ground, they can also air scent. Like their cousin the Basset, they are built to be the perfect tracking dog, with a large, long head; a nose with large, open nostrils; long ears that sweep the scent upward from the ground; and a cape of loose skin around the head and neck to trap and retain the scent. Last but not least, the Bloodhound’s stamina and persistence make him a superior trailing dog.
Want to know more about specific dog characteristics? Visit the DogTime Dog Breed Center for more information.