Thursday, January 16, 2014

Not confident that you know your dog well? Follow your nose

One of the first things that I ask someone when they call to inquire about my caring for their companion animals is, "Tell me about your pets!"

I like to get a feel for what my newfound furry or feathered friends are like before I meet them, and of course when we have our all-important first meeting, I want to know more.

Sure knowing all of the breed information, their age, overall health and care detail is important, but I want to know the nitty-gritty stuff: Where's their favorite place to nap? Do they prefer to linger and sniff everything on their dog walks, or are they constantly on a mission? For cats do they like catnip? What kind of naughtiness do they typically engage in — did they like to steal and chew on your socks?

Those are the kinds of things that only those that share life everyday with a pet will know. And those things help me to care for them better.

Sometimes I'll get a call from a client (or a reader!) about a distressing situation, usually health or behavior related, and in order for me to ascertain the best direction to send them in, I ask lots of pointed questions. I always end the conversation with, "You know you're pet better than anyone — remember that."

And it's true.

That statement is validated by research. And your nose. No, really.

Deborah L. Wells and Peter G. Hepper with the Animal Behaviour Centre, Queen's University, Belfast, decided to test the olfactory skill of dog owners to see if they could distinguish their own dog's smell from that of a different dog.

In their study, Wells and Hepper gave 26 dog owners two blankets to smell — one that had been infused with the individual odor of their pooch, and one that had the smell of a dog that was unfamiliar to them.

Without the help of visual cues (the humans were blindfolded during the sniff test so as not to give any clues like dog hair left on the blanket), 88.5 percent of the dog owners were able to accurately discern which blanket smelled like their dog. That's pretty good!

We typically give a lot of credit to dogs in their ability to use their incredible sense of smell, but we demonstrate some pretty mad skills in that department, too. This data reminds us that we are smarter than we know when it comes to our pets, even if we need to be reminded of it sometimes.

Click here to read a bit more on the study called 'The discrimination of dog odours by humans', published on

Lorrie Shaw is a freelancer writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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