Dog Breeds Commonly Trained for Scent Work

By Tom •  Updated: 07/27/22 •  6 min read
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Dog Breeds Commonly Trained for Scent Work

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Each dog breed can be expected to show general breed characteristics such as size, appearance, temperament, and personality. The ability to smell can vary widely from dog to dog, but comparative studies across different breeds simply haven’t been done, at least not in a meaningful way. The bottom line is this: when it comes to having an excellent sense of smell, any healthy dog (regardless of breed) will beat a human every time, so they all can be said to have a relatively excellent sense of smell.

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Dog breeds with shortened muzzles or pushed in faces aren’t expected to have as strong a sense of smell as those with a more elongated snout. Similarly, any dog with a health condition that interferes with the normal passage of air through the nose isn’t going to be a strong sniffer. Aside from considering how some dog breeds have short snouts and struggle with breathing easily, a dog’s breeding doesn’t have too much impact on its physical ability to smell. Working scent dogs, like those who sniff out explosives, find missing persons, and detect cancer are selected primarily for their breed’s reputation for trainability and aptitude for the work, not because they’re biologically better at smelling.

If you’re interested in learning more about these amazing breeds, keep reading to learn more.

Factors That Affect a Dog’s Sense of Smell

It is believed that dog snouts are 10,000 times more powerful at detecting odors than a human nose. Since dogs have so many scent receptors, your dog can sniff out odors that you aren’t even aware of.

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Dogs with short snouts, like pugs, have less space for scent receptors than breeds with a longer snout, such as Labrador retrievers. Some dogs, like bloodhounds, have excess facial skin and droopy ears that help pick up scents from the ground and funnel them into the nose. In addition to breed characteristics like these, other factors that can influence an individual dog’s ability to smell include health issues, injuries, and some types of medications.

Super Sniffing Dog Breeds

Some studies have shown that German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers may be best suited for scent work because of their aptitude for following directions. While many dog breeds have a great sense of smell, it takes a combination of physical capability and intensive training for a dog to become professionally employed in scent work. Let’s take a closer look at these breeds and some others that are known for their aptitude for scent work:

Beagle

Beagles are known for having an excellent sense of smell. They are natural hunters who were originally bred for tracking game. Their ability to pick up scents allows them to follow a trail even when the prey is out of sight. This breed’s short stature keeps it low to the ground so their big floppy ears can help them pick up scents from the ground.

Bloodhound

A Bloodhound’s superior sense of smell is so widely recognized that in some parts of the world their discoveries are admissible in a court of law. While some dogs can only pick up fresh scents, it is believed that Bloodhounds can pick up a scent that is almost two weeks old. A bloodhound’s droopy face and ears might make him look sad, but it serves the purpose of funneling scents into his long snout in a way that makes him a sniffing champ.

German Shepherd

With hundreds of millions of scent receptors in their long snouts, German Shepherds are great at picking up scents that are present in even the tiniest concentrations. Researchers have found that German Shepherds’ sense of smell is so sharp that they can smell lung cancer in a patient’s breath.

Dachshund

Like other long-snouted breeds, dachshunds are also good at picking up scents. While the dachshund’s unusual body type may not look particularly athletic, their short stature and proximity to the ground may help them follow a scent since they are closer to the trail. Their small size also helps them fit into tiny spaces to dig out their prey once they track them down.

Basset Hound

The Basset Hound was bred in France to hunt small game. It’s not only the anatomy of their snouts that helps with their ability to pick up scents and odors. Their short legs keep them close to the ground while their long floppy ears assist by picking up scents from the ground and directing them towards the nose.

Bluetick Coonhound

This breed is very popular among hunters in the southern United States. Famously stubborn, the Bluetick Coonhound is known to follow an exciting scent trail regardless of how far and difficult the search might be.

Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois is the favored breed of the Navy SEALS and law enforcement in the U.S. Belgian Malinois dogs have been used to sniff out bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq and they commonly work at airports.

Golden Retriever

Friendly Golden retrievers were bred in Scotland to assist hunters. With up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, the easily trained Golden Retriever can pick up on scents that are so highly diluted they’re impossible for humans to detect.

Labrador Retriever

Labs have been used in studies to show dogs are capable of using their sense of smell to detect a variety of different types of cancers in humans. These popular, hard working dogs love to play. Given their goofy nature, it would be easy to overlook that they, like many other breeds, possess this type of olfactory superpower and can be well-suited to life as a hard-working scent professional.

Sense of Smell and Your Dog’s Health

Some respiratory health issues in dogs can affect their sense of smell. When dogs lose their sense of smell, they may begin to display unusual behaviors or even lose interest in their food. Anything that causes nasal congestion or reduces the flow of air through the nasal passages can cause a loss of the sense of smell.

If you believe your dog may be suffering from a decreased sense of smell, schedule a virtual vet appointment to find out if there is an underlying issue that needs medical attention. Often, changes in your dog’s behavior can alert you to health issues that can be corrected before they get worse. Although your dog’s sense of smell will decrease slightly with age, any drastic differences you notice should be reported to your vet just in case.

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Tom

Tom has always loved to write since he was little - he wanted to be either a writer or a veterinary doctor, but he ended up being a professional writer while most of his works are based on animals. He was born in San Francisco but later moved to Texas to continue his job as a writer. He graduated from the University of San Francisco where he studied biotechnology. He is happily married and a soon to be father!
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