Snowpocalypse II: Something Smells



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The snow is gradually receding, but our dogs still seem a little weirded out by the gleaming walls of white. It could be the winter weathers’ effect on their ability to smell their environment.

Madge the basset hound-pit bull’s nose contains 220 million olfactory-sensing cells, compared to about five million in my much less impressive schnoz, and her brain, though smaller than mine, contains about four times as much tissue devoted to processing scent data.
 
Like other dogs, she also has the ability to wiggle her nostrils independently, giving her a much sharper sense of where scents are coming from. I like to think of smell as dogs’ version of the wireless internet–it’s a rich, dynamic source of information and a mode of mobile communication as well (though they log on with their snouts and text by lifting their legs).

The problem is that the winter storm creates a big glitch for them. The lower temperatures reduce bacterial activity, which means there is less to smell, and changes the pattern of air movement that transmits scents over distances.  Police K-9 experts say that search dogs can be trained to compensate for the altered aroma of a winter environment, but a civilian canine like Madge probably is caught unprepared for the abrupt disappearance of her usual olfactory environment. And to think I was frustrated because I couldn’t watch CNN for a few days due to the power outage.

BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about dogs’ remarkable olfactory abilities, check out this article, written by two Seattle police department K-9 experts back in the 1990s. Another great source of information about how dogs perceive the world is Stanley Coren’s 2004 book, How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind, which is excerpted in Google Books.