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Do Dogs Really See With Their Noses?

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What would it be like to experience the world as a dog?

You might hear things you don’t normally hear (dogs can hear almost double the frequency that humans can), and you might not see as clearly as you do in a human body (dogs see fewer colors and less contrast).

But you’d experience a whole new world through your nose.

Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog and assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College, explains in the video above how dogs actually use their noses to see and track past and future events. If your dog seems suspicious about any visitors, it may be because their nose is telling them where they’ve been, what they had for breakfast, and how they are feeling. Think you can pull a fast one on your dog and stop at McDonalds on your way home without him? He’ll even smell your french fries if you’ve already eaten all of them.

The olfactory system is more essential to dogs than any other sense. Dogs often lose partial to full hearing as they age but can still function just fine in our human world. Dogs can manage with vision loss, too. (I’ve seen dogs chase balls at full speed who had no vision. I only later was told that they were blind.) But without their ability to smell, dogs couldn’t function easily.

A dog’s nose is so amazing, it can even smell stress and anger through the hormones that are released when someone experiences these emotions. That’s why your dog knows when you had a rough day at work. And they can use that sense of smell to alert us to invisible threats, such as bombs and cancer cells.

Next time you greet your dog after being away, remember that he’ll not only know where you’ve been, but he might know your future, too. If there is a breeze, he’ll be able to detect any visitors coming your way, long before they can be heard or seen. Sounds like that psychic you’ve wanted to consult might have four paws and a nose.

 

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Traveling Without My Dog

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Dog Bar in Chatham, MA.

I am writing this on my return from a wonderful vacation on Cape Cod, where I visited  my sister and her family. I live outside of San Francisco, where daily walks with Sanchez along the coastal trail overlooking the ocean are a common occurrence. Swimming in the cold water is not. I am part fish (or mermaid?) and loved swimming in the warm Atlantic Ocean and ponds (that I would have called lakes) daily.  As readers know, I love my dog.  Would I have wanted him with me on this vacation? The honest answer is no.

Right before I left for the trip, I posted on Facebook that I was having a very hard time leaving without Sanchez. I even cried several tears on the flight out. I couldn’t stop thinking about him until I spoke to his dog sitter when I arrived in Boston and heard he was fine. Once that occurred, I was able to stay focused on my vacation and not worry about him.

There are two reasons that I didn’t want him with me on this trip. I spent most of my time at a beach where dogs are not allowed between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (Although some beaches allow dogs at certain hours.) He could have gone with me to ponds where I also swam, but I wouldn’t have been able to swim a mile across a pond and back with him there. When it comes to the true definition of a Labrador in the water, I fit the bill more than him. He loves water, but doesn’t swim for hours on end – unlike my last dog, who swam with me in numerous lakes, rivers, and ponds.

The second reason is because I think it was emotionally healthy for me to have a break from him. I took long walks, sometimes alone and other times with my sister, Gail. Without a dog, I was able to stay fully aware of my body when alone, and totally present on conversations with Gail when she was with me. That just doesn’t happen when walking Sanchez. I am always keeping some of my attention on our surroundings, his recall (when off leash), and approaching dogs. I enjoyed doing yoga on the beach in the early mornings. I wouldn’t have done that with a dog present. (Although I have read about Doga, I haven’t experienced it myself yet.)

Even though I wouldn’t have flown cross country with a dog unless he could be in the cabin with me (as Sanchez had been on numerous occasions when he was a Guide Dog puppy in training), here is my general rule about bringing dogs on vacation. If the vacation can be centered around him and he will enjoy it more than being home, he goes. My next summer trip is to Oregon and Sanchez will be accompanying me. We will be enjoying long walks on beaches, staying with friends who love Sanchez and have a new puppy, playing in lakes and rivers, and hiking frequently.

I am coming home refreshed, renewed, and filled with a better understanding of dogs  – as I’ve been reading Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz and learning to see the world from a dog’s perspective. We will both benefit from my vacation, as I believe I will be more present with him and I’m sure he will sense a change in my pace and attentiveness. Only seven more hours and 22 minutes before I see him. I think we’ll both be wagging our tails.