Dogs Are Amazing
What particularly fascinates me about dogs is their nose and how they spend her their days sniffing everything around them and always locating the water bowl no matter where you place it. Water is near odourless – yet a dog’s nose could sniff it out instantly.
This aroused my curiosity and by reading up on what a dog’s nose does, I found out that it and its inner workings are the most amazing part of a dog.
A dog uses its two nostrils separately, this gives them a stereo effect, and combined with the spongy outer covering, the dog can immediately work out the direction of a scent
Then, rather than breathe back out though the nostrils, they exhale through a different chamber via side slits next to the nostrils.
This one-way traffic system allows great efficiency and causes odour concentration to build up over multiple sniffs with each sniff providing further information on the scent to such a level that if you stood in one corner of the Point Depot and your dog was in the corner farthest away from you, they would quickly sense you were there and then within a few sniffs know where exactly where you were located.
And this is all down to their olfactory system.
Humans have about 5 million olfactory receptor cells - a dog has up to 300 million. And its not just the number of cells, it is the intensity of packing of the cells that gives an even greater detection ability.
But it’s no use having all those receptor cells without the processing power of the olfactory bulb.
Again comparing humans and dogs, a dog’s olfactory bulb is about 40 times the relative mass of brain than a human and this combined with the receptors gives dogs several hundred times more processing power than us.
To a dog, every animal & every object has a distinct smell profile. Every person, every tree, every insect and even a piece of rubbish can be identified and remembered by and filed away by a dog for immediate or future use – even up to two years afterwards.
And whilst you may be in awe at a dogs smelling ability, it was one situation that we experienced with Ruby that had us flummoxed.
Ruby works with here in a our store in Naas – about 4 years ago we had a customer come in, saw Ruby sitting on the counter and Ruby nuzzled into her. We learnt that the customer had breast cancer and Ruby was a comforting distraction for her. She became a regular visitor for a comforting cuddle from Ruby.
Then one day, about 2 years after her first visit, she came in and ruby got excited to see her, was jumping about her and turned around and looked for a tummy rub. – Completely different to any of the previous visits
Why the sudden change?
The Customer had just received the news that she had the all clear from breast cancer and Ruby could sense that change in her almost immediately and responded to that inner happiness.
Buts it’s not that Ruby is some magical dog – all dogs have this ability, but in different intensities
This ability comes from a receptor in dogs called the Vomeronasal organ. We have it too, but its non-functional in humans
It is used to sniff out pheromones – chemical messages for socialising, communicating and mating purposes. This is done by connection of the vomeronasal organ to the emotive and behavioural sections of the brain via the olfactory bulb.
Many other animals have it, but the identification of pheromones keep within the same species, however with dogs it is now understood that it transcends to humans and thus they can detect changes in our moods and our chemical make-up, even before we know ourselves.
Thus even with an excited dog, if you are feeling unwell, they can suddenly become quiet, or if you are feeling sad, they can provide additional comfort to you without needing prompting.
And whilst that’s the everyday benefits, it is in cancer research that this little organ, combined with the dogs powerful sense of smell that could prove to be ground-breaking.
In was only in 1989 that this trait in dogs got the interest of the medical profession when The Lancet Medical Journal wrote about a woman whose dog persisted in smelling a particular mole on her leg. That mole turned out to be early-stage malignant melanoma.
In the years since, studies show that dogs really can detect the smell of cancer and the results of these studies has now seen further research being undertaken specifically in areas of early stage urological and breast cancer detection.
The hope is it will result in the development and roll-out of a reliable, affordable, early test that can show aggressive prostate cancers non-invasively in men and keep us off the operating table.
In relation to breast cancer, due to exposure to radiation, mammograms are only recommended every 3 years – thus you could have breast cancer for 2 years before finding out. It is hoped that dogs can be used for more frequent testing of women in between scans and testing at a younger age, especially those with a higher risk profile.
So next time you look at a dog – think – they really are quite amazing.