Master Trainer Bill Whitstine of the Florida Canine Academy comments on a dog’s sense of smell:
- From a single drop of urine, the sniffing dog learns the marking animal’s sex, diet, health, emotional state, and even whether it’s dominant or submissive, friend or foe.
- Tracking dogs follow a biochemical trail of dead skin cells, sweat, odor molecules, and gasses.
- For dogs, a scent article is like a three-dimensional “odor image” – much more detailed than a photograph is for a person.
- Dogs can track a scent through snow, air, mud, water, and even ash.
An Auburn University report spells out the following strengths about the dogs’ scent detection abilities:
- Sensitivity: The dog’s limit of detection (absolute threshold) has been determined for four compounds to documented limits of olfactory detection for the dog range from tens of parts per billion to 500 parts per trillion.
- Odor Discrimination: Dogs’ ability to discriminate among target and non-target odors is even more impressive than their sensitivity. They were able to discriminate the target odor even when the non-target odor was orders of magnitude higher in concentration (and overwhelming to humans).
- Odor Signatures: When being trained to detect a substance, dogs learn to recognize a substance in terms of its one or two most abundant vapor constituents.
- Multiple Odor Discriminations: Dogs can easily learn as many as ten odor discriminations without difficulty.
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