Dogs have the ability to create “a picture of the world through smell” says Alexandra Horowitz in her new book Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell (S&S/Scribner; S&S Audio; OverDrive Sample). It is rising on Amazon’s sales rankings after a feature on NPR’s Fresh Air, bounding up the charts to #94 from #8,258.
During the program Horowitz discusses how dog’s snouts work, that they can smell what time of day it is, and their work conducting search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, and cancer diagnosis. They can even smell electronics law officers want to locate. So amazing is their ability that they can smell a trace sent at a measurement of a trillionth of a gram.
Horowitz explains that dogs breathe differently than humans and their exhale, through the side of their nose, helps them hold onto scents longer, “It’s like a circular breathing of smelling. It also creates a little puff on the ground, a puff of air that might actually allow more odor molecules to come up toward their nose to be sniffed.”
She also discusses how important dog’s interactions with different smells are, warning, says NPR, “that pulling dogs away from smell-rich environments, such as fire hydrants and tree trunks, can cause them to lose their predisposition to smell.”
When we force dogs away from their smelling time and into the visual world we recognize, Horowitz says dogs “start attending to our pointing and our gestures and our facial expressions more, and less to smells.” She continues:
“I really am trying to counter what I and lots of owners have done our whole lives, which is discourage smelling. In fact, instead I’m trying to embrace it. So on a ‘smell walk,’ I just let the dog choose what we’re going to do, where we’re going to go, and how long we’re going to stay there. … I just let the dog take charge. Sometimes our walks are pretty much standing around, actually, but I think the dog is enjoying himself.”
The interview connected with listeners, so much so that an older book by Horowitz also saw a jump. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (S&S/Scribner; Tantor Media; OverDrive Sample). It rose from #8,761 all the way to #302 on Amazon’s rankings.
For those who prefer cats, a report published yesterday in the The Wall Street Journal [subscription may be required] says watching cute cat videos makes people feel “significantly happier, more content and more energized … as well as less anxious, less annoyed and less sad.” Do yourself a favor and watch this:
Back to the dogs, here is the Fresh Air interview: