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Many dog owners wonder why wet dog noses smell better and how moisture impacts their ability to detect scent. 

Interestingly, dogs have some intriguing anatomical features when it comes to their noses that most of us humans can dream of. This often makes us wonder how the world must be perceived from a canine's standpoint. 

By learning more about a dog's anatomy and discovering its fascinating features, it's as if we can get a little closer to their worlds. 

Legend Has It...

Before taking a little lesson in anatomy and getting into the nitty-gritty details of how dog noses work, you may find it endearing learning a little legend. 

When the world was flooded and all animals were collected on Noah's Ark, two dogs were made responsible for patrolling the vessel and keeping an eye on things. 

One day, one dog noticed with horror that there was hole in the ark, causing water to gush through it. As this dog ran for help, the other dog did the only thing he could think of at the moment to plug the hole: he simply stuck his nose in the hole to stop the leak. 

When Noah finally arrived with the tools to plug the hole, the poor dog was gasping for air. This dog was proclaimed a hero as he had just prevented a major disaster.  

To award this dog's heroic deed, God bestowed on all dogs a cold and wet nose and the rest is history...

Introducing Your Dog's Nose

Legends aside, your dog's nose is a piece of mastery. As macrosomatic beings, dogs have a powerful sense of smell that provides them with loads of information about other dogs and the world that surrounds them.

Being equipped with a sense of smell that is 10,000 superior than ours, how powerful a dog's sense of smell is should come as no surprise. As visual beings, who rely most on the sense of smell, us humans, might never fully grasp how the world must feel from a dog's perspective.

Saying that dogs have a strong sense of smell is therefore an understatement. A better statement would be that dogs are armed with super powers when it comes to the nasal compartment.

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Indeed, studies have always shown that dogs consistently rank high when it comes to their numbers of olfactory receptors, the surface of their olfactory epithelium and their ability to discriminate a particular smell.

Put all of these exquisite traits together and you have the perfect concoction for an animal capable of detecting drugs and explosives, low insuline levels, certain types of cancer, and recently even COVID-19!

Why Do Wet Dog Noses Smell Better?

Wet dog noses smell better because they secrete a thin layer of mucus and this moisture allows them to absorb scent chemicals from the air. Researchers believe that a wet nose therefore is better capable of trapping scent molecules that drift inward, making them easier for dogs to analyze.

On top of this, consider that scent is water soluble. Dogs with cool, wet noses will do a better job of working with scent than those with dry noses, explains Vickie Lamb in the book: "The Ultimate Hunting Dog Reference Book."

Scent detecting conditions therefore tend to worsen when the air is hot and dry compared to when the air is damp and humid.  

Nose Licking to Analyze Smells

Interestingly, when dogs lick their nose, it may just look to us as if they are just wiping it, but in reality there's likely more to it. 

When your dog licks his nose, scent chemicals are being wiped off and when the tongue returns to the mouth, these scent chemicals are sent up the dog's incisive papilla which is located on the roof of the mouth. 

This allows dogs to analyze the scent better as it reaches the Jacobson organ. 

Also, now that the dog has wiped away the old scent, he is now ready for capturing fresher scent. 

''Scent is like a fog, a physical entity with its own physical integrity. Just like fog, scent settles in hollows, wafts though the air, and moves and flows in space, invisible to us but clear as a bright light to our dogs."~ Patricia McConnell, The Other End of the Leash


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  • The Ultimate Hunting Dog Reference Book, A Comprehensive Guide to More Than 60 Sporting Breeds – Vickie Lamb

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