Dog communication and smell

One of the lesser understood aspects of how dog’s communicate is through their use of smells. A dog’s sense of smell is more than 100 times stronger than a human’s. While a dog has some 200 million olfactory cells to register different odors, humans have only 5 million. This is one reason why scent and dog marking behavior is an integral part of how your dog communicates.

Why dog marking

Dog’s use smell in communication for several reasons:

To define territory

A dog will urinate on various objects around an area to mark his territory. These “scent posts” broadcast a dog’s claim to a particular place and make him feel at home. This explains why incidents of dog marking may increase when you move into a new house or apartment.

To greet and establish rank

Everyone should readily recognize this aspect of dog communication. When two dogs meet they smell one another. This ritual gives each dog information about the other and can establish which one is most dominant without resorting to a fight. The dominant dog will often smell the subordinate dog first and then present himself for sniffing as a sign of confidence or courage.

To communicate that a female is in heat

A female dog tends to urinate more often when she’s in season, which can attract male dogs.

Animal behaviorists have found that a dog can tell the sex of another dog, whether it has been spayed or neutered, the direction the other dog was traveling, and how long ago it had been in a particular area, all from just a few drops of urine. This makes the sense of smell a powerful tool in dog communication, even if both dogs aren’t in the same place at the same time.

Using smells in dog training

Where people see a television, a chair, or Uncle Joe, a dog has a scent map that he can use to recognize objects, places, and people. You can use this knowledge of dog communication to your advantage in certain aspects of training or to avoid behavioral problems.

Use objects with your scent to increase comfort

When crate training or in dealing with problems such as separation anxiety, an old sweater or blanket that smells like you can make your dog feel more at ease. It’s also a good idea to bring objects from home when traveling for extended periods to reduce any stress your dog might experience.

Use smells to make housebreaking easier

Keep a stool in the area you’ve designated for bathroom breaks to communicate to your dog where he should go and what he should do there.

Clean up housebreaking mistakes immediately

If your dog goes to the bathroom in the house, clean it up immediately with an odor neutralizer. This will keep him from establishing a scent post and returning to the spot.

Use smells to reinforce a particular response

You can use treats or toys with different smells to reward your dog for different responses during obedience training. Keep track of what your dog likes and give “better smells” for better performances.

Knowing a little about dog communication and the role smells play in your dog’s world can help make your relationship with him more enjoyable.