The Star-Herald

A dog’s five senses

Dogs have incredible senses; they can hear any little noise and can smell from a mile away.  People talk about opening a wrapper on a piece of cheese; you can’t hear a thing when you open it, but your furry pal sure can and comes running. 

Dogs’ senses are so much sharper than those we humans have.  How many times have you had your windows open, sleeping soundly, and the dogs start barking and you look out to see the raccoons are at the bird feeders. You didn’t hear them or smell them, but your canine companion did.

A dog’s senses are a lot like ours — but not. Here are their five senses according to Alexandra Sifferlin from the Times Special Edition article, How Dogs Think: Inside the Canine Mind.

Touch

The sense of touch is used immediately at birth when pups are cleaned by their mothers through licks and nuzzles, which may register with them the way a hug does for a human.  

A dog’s paws contain nerve endings that can help it navigate its movements.  

The dog’s muzzle is rich in nerve endings, and the nose thus serves both an olfactory and a tactile, exploratory function, Sifferlin says.

Sight

A common misconception is that dogs don’t see in color.  They do, but not complex colors like humans do.  Sifferlin says it’s likely that dogs can see yellow and blue shades well, but reds and oranges are more difficult for them to perceive.  

Dogs do have better night vision then people do, and they are skilled at picking up on movements even in dim lighting.

Scent

The area of a dog’s brain dedicated to scent is thought to be 40 times as large as that of a human.  Not only that, but dogs also have hundreds of millions of scent receptors in their noses, versus a mere 400 for humans.  

According to the writer, dogs smell continuously while they breathe, unlike humans, who smell only on the inhale.

Taste

Dogs don’t excel in the taste department, Sifferlin says. Whereas people have around 9,000 taste buds on their tongues, dogs have only around 2,000.  

But a limited taste range doesn’t mean dogs aren’t open to enjoying new things. As anyone who has lived with a dog knows, if something is edible — or even if not — they’ll try it. 

Chocolate, garlic, coffee and onions are thought to be harmful to dogs’ digestion.

Sound

Dogs have very acute hearing and can detect sounds that are of significantly higher frequencies than what humans can hear.  

They are also better than humans at isolating sounds, which means that in an area with a lot of noise, they are skilled at finding their target, Sifferlin says.  Hearing is considered a dog’s second-best sense, after smell.

Robert Crais said, “The sense of smell in all dogs is their primary doorway to the world around them.” 

Gail Wieder is a member of the board of directors for the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

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