I caught another Nova presentation on WTTW Prime. And the reason I’m so interested in these programs is that they help me understand and appreciate nature more completely than I have in the past. I feel more connected to it the more I know about it. The most recent program was about dogs and their sense of smell.

The entire program was worth watching, but the part that absolutely blew my mind was the segment about sniffer dogs; dogs that are trained to use their sense of smell to locate specific items. These include drug sniffing dogs and dogs that can locate people buried in snow after an avalanche.

In the experiment for the sniffer dogs, a crew of people sank a container in a large lake. There was only meat in the container. They sank it twenty feet deep and noted the location using geological coordinates on a hand-held computer.  The dog and dog owner were not present when they did this.

Later, the crew gave the dog owner a general part of the lake to check out. The search section was approximately thirty acres in size. The owner got into a row boat with the dog seated in the prow and started searching the area by cruising back and forth across the surface. For some time, there was no reaction from the dog. Eventually it started to bark. The owner cruised back and forth over the area that caused the dog to bark and finally stopped over what the owner thought was the most likely spot, given the dog’s reaction.

When the first crew came out to the spot and checked their coordinates, they found the dog was off by about two feet. I think that’s absolutely amazing. I knew dogs had a great sense of smell, but not that great. A dog expert interviewed on the program said that the dog’s sense of smell is about 100 million times more sensitive than human smell. I am a believer.

Another question they investigated was how dog’s know when their owner is coming home; how they tell time. The experiment performed was not conclusive, but it seemed to indicate that the dog could tell how long the owner was gone based upon the amount of the person’s scent lingering in the home. I’m not sure about the conclusion. If I remember correctly, our dog Peaches could tell not only when my wife, Marilyn, would come home from work, but also when she would return from shopping. When Peaches knew Marilyn was coming home, she’d lay down by the front door with her nose parked against the crack in the door, waiting for her favorite member of our family.

If you have similar dog stories, feel free to share them here. Thanks.

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