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Understanding How Dogs Senses Are Different From Humans

A big part of understanding your dog is understanding its senses and accepting that they are different than humans. Both humans and dogs have the same three senses: sight, hearing and smelling, however most humans communicate by hearing, seeing, and then smelling, while dogs primarily communicate by smelling, seeing and lastly hearing. Dogs also have a universal sense which humans do not have – they can feel the energy (emotions) of the other beings around them.


A dog interprets the world predominantly by smell, whereas most humans interpret it by sight. As a human I cannot even imagine what that would be like to get most of my information from what I smell. And I am not sure that I would want to! This is why a blind or deaf dog can get along just fine if allowed to be a dog, given the proper leadership and exercise and their sensory whiskers are not cut off when they are groomed. While a dog’s brain is only one-tenth the size of a human brain, the part that controls smell is 40 times larger than in humans. A dog’s sense of smell is about 1,000 to 10,000,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, depending on the breed. A human has about 5 million scent glands, compared to a dog, who has anywhere from 125 million to 300 million, depending on the breed. Have you ever wondered why your dog’s nose is wet? The mucus on a dog’s nose actually helps it smell by capturing scent particles. When a dog’s nose is dry they may lick it to aid them in scent.

When dogs smell something they are not just registering a smell, they get an entire story. They can smell pheromone, which is not only found in the urine and fecal, but on the skin and fur. From this they can tell a lot about another dog or human including if they are male or female, what they ate, where they have been, what they have touched, if they are ready to mate, if they have recently given birth, or had a false pregnancy, and what mood they are in. This is why sometimes when we come home our dogs spend a bit of time smelling us!

Dogs have even been known to smell cancer on people, alerting them to it and saving their lives. This means when your dog smells another person, tree that another dog has peed on, pant leg that another dog has rubbed up against, or chair that someone has sat in, they are actually reading a story, not just smelling an interesting scent. While a human will smell something like spaghetti sauce as one smell, a dog smells each individual ingredient. Unlike humans, dogs can move their nostrils independently, allowing them to know what direction a smell is coming from.

Also, a dog can both sniff and breathe. These are two different functions. Breathing is for air, but when they sniff with short breaths they actually save some scent that does not get exhaled. When a dog is overheated and actively panting, its sense of smell can be reduced by as much as 40 percent as it uses the air to cool itself rather than for smelling. Puppies have heat sensors in their noses to help find their mother during the time when their eyes and ears are closed. These sensors disappear by the time they are adults. It’s all very fascinating!


Since dogs do not have a spoken language, their thoughts are more like a sequence of images, much like a child before it learns to speak. A common question is, “Are dogs colorblind?” The answer is no, not exactly. They do not only see in shades of only black and white. Studies have shown that dogs see in colors of various shades of blue and yellow. For example, a rainbow to a dog would be as follows: dark blue, light blue, light gray, light yellow, dark brownish yellow, and dark gray. Purple and blue are both seen as shades of blue. Greenish-blue is viewed as a shade of gray. Red is seen as a black or dark gray. Orange, yellow and green all are seen to a dog as various shades of yellow. Thus, to a dog, bright orange toys are the same yellowish shade as the green grass. If you want your dog to clearly see his toys in the green grass you are better off giving the dog blue toys; if you have orange, yellow or green toys, the dog will be able to find them with his nose.

Also, dogs can see best at dusk and dawn. Their low-light vision is much better than a human’s, but their overall vision is not better. While a human’s vision is considered perfect at 20/20, a dog’s vision is on average 20/75. Dogs cannot see as well at a distance as a human with normal eyes. Humans can also see things close up better than a dog can. Dogs can recognize objects better when they are moving and sometimes overlook the same object when it is still.


Did you know that puppies are born deaf and cannot hear until they are about 21 days old? Their eyes are also closed. During this time they rely solely on scent to interpret their world. By the time their sense of hearing is completely developed they can hear about 4 times the distance of a human who has normal hearing. Dogs can hear higher pitched sounds that humans cannot hear. They often bark at vacuums because they hear a very loud annoying pitch to their motors. When we recently had a litter of puppies we used the vacuum around them often to get them used to it.

Dogs have 18 or more muscles in their ears allowing them to be mobile, whereas a human has only 6 and can only move their ears slightly, if at all. Dogs with perked ears can usually hear better than dogs with hanging ears, especially if they can move their ears in the direction of the sound.


Animals can feel energy. This energy is a universal animal language. Have you ever seen a group of wild animals out in the yard, maybe a squirrel, rabbit and a deer all eating peacefully? Clearly these animals are not speaking words to one another and asking if they all come in peac. But somehow they all know that they are not going to harm one another. Or perhaps you know a dog that other dogs do not tend to like, or a cat that likes one dog but not another. Or perhaps you know of a person who dogs are prone to bark at. Years ago we had a dog that would only bark at a certain person if they were around. Dogs can sense fear. It is believed that they can smell the pheromone and perhaps they can even feel it radiating from a human. Some dogs can tell a few minutes before a human is about to have a seizure even before the person knows.

Dogs interpret human emotions such as worry, anxiety, fear, anger, pity and nervousness as weaknesses. They do not listen to these emotions. Dogs listen best to someone who is calm but firm in their approach. They use their sense of energy to determine who should be the leader of their pack. The being with the strongest and most stable energy is the one they look to; whether it’s themselves or another being around them. While you can hide your emotions from another human, you cannot hide them from a dog. This is important to understand when building your relationship with your dog. You want your dog to look to you as the leader.

If you have any interest in our various dog training options give us a call at 231-845-0550. We are currently taking reservations for our September Basic Obedience Class and have some spots left. Or if you have any questions about boarding your dog give us a call. We love talking dogs! When only the best will do. #ludingtondogtraining#dogtraining#dogboarding

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