Sniffing it out
Smelling is part of a dog’s natural behaviour, both instinctually for survival and to make sense of the world around them. A typical dog’s nose contains 300 million olfactory receptors (also known as odour receptors) compared to the 6 million found in a human nose. This means a dog’s nose is 50 times stronger than ours at picking up scents. What dogs can sense with just their nose is truly remarkable – they’ve even been known to save lives with their nose!
It’s true! Cindy Otto, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center, is currently training eight Labrador Retrievers to sniff out COVID-19. If the study is successful, dogs will be able to screen people for coronavirus in airports, hospitals and other public gathering spots. While these dogs won’t serve as a replacement for tests, they can be used as a non-invasive alternative similar to how dogs are currently used to sniff for explosives in airports, yet we still have to go through security.
Dogs have an extraordinary ability to track down people by smell, which is why they are used in missing person searches. “Trained search and rescue dogs can follow a scent from footstep to footstep, and can even catch scents in the air,” says Dan Morris from PetNPat. “This is invaluable to us in the task of locating those who are lost because we simply have nowhere near the same capabilities.” Some breeds of dogs are better than others at tracking people, but because of dogs’ olfactory abilities that have adapted over time to ensure their survival, their ability is always better than humans.