Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Seeing Through Their Noses

Uptight, Type A people are often told to stop and smell the roses. That’s something you never have to tell a dog.

dognosePeople may awake to the smell of coffee percolating, soak in the savory aroma of chicken marsala or catch a waft of perfume in an elevator. But for people, these are just glancing sensory perceptions.

Dogs, on the other nose, rely on their sniffers to shape their perceptions. Smell is the oyster of their universe.

In her 2010 bestselling book, “Inside of a Dog,” Andrea Horowitz tells us on why. Humans have 6 million sensory receptors in their noses; dogs have 300 million. The odor of dirty socks may gag humans. To dogs, dirty socks are a treasure trove of clues. Luckily, she notes, humans are clumsy sniffers, so after a while dirty socks don’t smell all that much different than gladiolas.

Horowitz, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate before earning her PhD in cognitive science and becoming a college psychology professor, has devoted much of her life to study the cognition of dogs.

dog_nose1Most dogs owners have wondered what their dog is thinking and why it is smiling. Unfortunately, most dog owners tend to anthropomorphize our pets. We see a smile that may actually be a disapproving frown in dogdom.

Horowitz says what dogs smell informs what dogs know. That’s an easy precept to follow. When dog smells dinner cooking, it knows it is time to eat. The same is true for the big dog lounging on the couch watching TV. But dogs also can smell someone coming before you see them coming. Or catch the deadly aroma of cancer cells before a doctor detects them.

“The sniffer is not just an ornament atop the muzzle; it is the leading, moist headliner, Horowitz writes. “What its prominence suggests, and what all science confirms, is that the dog is a creature of the nose.”

“Humans sniff emotively, or meaningfully – to express disdain, contempt, surprise, and as punctuation at a sentence’s end. Animals mostly sniff, as far as we know, to investigate the world.”

Horowitz claims dogs “see” through their nose.

This is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Seeing and hearing impaired humans rely on service dogs. We assume they see and hear for us. They may actually do greater service by smelling for us.

While humans irritate each other by not paying close attention to what we say or how we look, dogs are the absolute opposite. They study our faces and smell our clothes and breath to understand how we are doing and what we are feeling.

DogNasalAnat“We are known by our dogs – probably far better than we know them,” Horowitz says. “They are the consummate eavesdroppers and peeping toms. Let into the privacy of our rooms, they quietly spy on our every move. They know about our comings and goings. They come to know our habits: how long we spend in the bathroom, how long we spend in front of the television. They know who we sleep with; what we eat; what we eat too much of; who we sleep too much with. They watch us like no other animal watches us.”

Instead of being creepy, we find dogs adorable. If we stopped to smell the roses more often, maybe we would really know why.











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