How To Look at A Dog’s Nose

ENG 705 Studies in Visual Cultures
Professor M. Tschofen
Emily Offenbacher

How To Look At A Dog’s Nose

“Dog’s Dazzling Sense of Smell” photo taken from

      To the average human a dog’s nose is just a feature on the face of a fun-loving beast. To us, we barely register the significance of our own nose, let alone the nose of other beings. However, those large, overly-invasive noses of the canine species serve as much more than your average scent-register. While they come in a variety of different shapes, colours and sizes—much like the human nose, their small differences are as important and personal as fingerprints. Upon getting close to a trust-worthy dog, one can note the different cracks and grooves which cover their nose, and this aids in differentiating one dog from another.

Humans and dogs alike have the same five sense; hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and seeing. However, while we might privilege sight, dogs rely on their noses. Scent is a large factor in how dogs perceive the world; where they’re going, where everyone has been, familiar places and familiar faces. To put it into perspective, humans have around 5 million nasal receptors, dogs can have up to 300 million—a higher count is more common for hunting breeds (Wood). What are nasal receptors? They’re specialized sensory cells which essentially help us pick up on scents. Perhaps this question may have entered ones mind when nervously glancing at a police dog, or a search and rescue pup. A dog can distinguish much more complex, and to us undetectable, scents—such as sickness and contraband.

Aside from their abundance of nasal receptors, several other factors influence their keen ability to smell. One of them being: dogs noses are angled in a way that makes scents travel more efficiently to the multiple nerves within their nose, which relays this message to the olfactory portion of a dogs brain, which then recognizes the scent as good, bad, familiar, unfamiliar etc (Wood) . When dogs get a whiff of a scent they’re particularly interested in (whether it be good or bad) they wiggle their nose in a particular way which indicates sniffing. To us sniffing is nothing if not the predecessor of a sneeze or the inhaling of a pleasant scent, but to dogs it’s a concentrated act which disrupts their breathing cycle.  When a dog invades the personal space of others to get a deep inhale it shouldn’t be taken as an insult. Most people are left asking “is he sniffing me because I smell bad?” No, that’s most-likely not the case. He’s just trying to figure out who you are, and where you’ve been. It’s his way of an introduction, or re-familiarization.

Now, to answer a question that almost every dog-owner has wondered about, if not typed into Google: why is my dogs nose wet and cold?/ If my dogs nose is dry is he sick? When simply looking at the average dogs nose one can notice it mimics the look of leather; crinkled with a slight sheen to it. Not only are canine noses used for scent, but they also help regulate their body temperature (Winfred). Humans sweat, dogs pant and lick their noses. Also it is said that keeping a moist nose aids dogs in picking up on aromas—hence dog noses regularly produce mucus. However, that isn’t to say that those with dry or warm noses are sick or unhealthy. All dogs are different, and a lot depends on the breed.

So next time a dog passes by on the street, snout aimed high in the air, or turned low to the ground, know that they are processing an array of powerful olfactory-experiences. Dog noses can seem to be cute, button-like additions to man’s best friend, but they’re more important than just a superficial accessory. Without those intrusive, meddlesome and sometimes moist noses dogs would be  just as lost as a human without sight—if not worse off.


Works Cited

 Dog’s Dazzling Sense of Smell.” NOVA, Corbis, 10 Apr. 2012,

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. New York, Routledge, 2000.

W., Winfred. “Dog Dry Nose-What It Means, Reasons Why and Home Remedies.” Dogs, Cats, Pets, 30 Aug. 2016,

Wood, Deborah. The Dog Lover’s Guide to Dating: Using Cold Noses to Find Warm Hearts. * Howell Book House, 2003.

“Dog’s Dazzling Sense of Smell.” NOVA, Corbis, 10 Apr. 2012,