How A Dogs Senses Compare To Humans

In part 2 of our series, Canine Evolution and How It Effects Your Dogs Behavior, we looked at the evolution of current domestic dogs.  Knowing that domestication of dogs happened over 1000’s of years can help us to better understand some of the most basic drives influencing their current behavior.

In part 3 we will take a look at how senses such as smell, sight, and hearing can play a role in your training and interaction with your dog.

A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 more acute than that of humans. While humans top out with about 50 million scent receptors, depending on it’s breed, a dog can have upwards of 300 million scent receptors. To better understand this Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, uses the following analogy:  While we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth.

Dogs are known to be able to sniff out drugs hidden in barrels filled with gasoline as well as to be able to detect cancer cells.

When it comes to sight, dogs are able detect motion at a greater distance and can see better at night when compared to humans.  Also, due to the eye placement on a dogs’ head they have a greater visual field than humans.  Where humans are limited to a 200-degree view of the world, dogs can see upwards of 240-degrees.  Where humans have a ‘leg up’ on their canine friends lies in our ability to see a full range of color.  Most humans can distinguish between 10 million colors whereas dogs see in a dull spectrum between yellow and blue.  Us humans also have the advantage when it comes to distinguishing specific objects at greater distances. (What Do Dogs and Cats See?  Retrieved December 30, 2013, from

Have you ever wondered about your dogs hearing?  Dog’s have more than 18 muscles to help them move their ears to help them hear.  They can also move their ears independently of each other to better detect the direction of a sound.  Dog’s can also hear a wider range of frequencies and at a greater distance than that of humans.
While humans and dogs can hear the same low frequency sounds, dogs are generally capable of hearing much higher frequencies than humans.

What do all these fun facts mean for you and your dog?  Simply put, you are up against a lot of distractions when you are with your dog.  To help gain your dog’s attention in distracting situations train a reliable attention behavior.  Also, when training a new behavior it is best that you train the behavior in a familiar environment for your dog, such as your home.  As your dog becomes more reliable with the behavior, practice the behavior in more distracting environments.  Remember when working with your dog in a new environment, to not expect them to do as well as they were doing at home.

I often tell students that distractions during class (other pet owners, other dogs, different environment, new experiences) are both the most helpful and the most challenging part of participating in group training. By facing these distractions with the guidance and coaching of an experienced trainer, you can learn how to gain the attention of your dog in even the most distracting of situations. An effective trainer can also help you to better understand both why your dog may be having a hard time paying attention and what to do about it.

If you find that your dog is acting crazy or appears to be on sensory overload when you are out in public, be patient, and consider the influence of your dogs senses. It might just be that your dog is smelling something, hearing something, and or seeing something that you are just not aware of.

Recommended Reading