How to Smell as Good as...Your Dog

 |  Aug 16th 2010  |   11 Contributions


No, that's not a joke headline - I genuinely believe a dog's own natural scent is indescribably wonderful. Of course, it helps if one is up-to-date on brushing and grooming, and one's dog hasn't recently rolled in anything unspeakable (or found himself on the wrong side of a skunk). Sure, there are perfume products out there created just for dogs, but in my humble opinion, dogs don't need fancy perfumes formulated to mask their body odor - they really do smell better au naturel.

Just like people, dogs each have their own unique scent. Sheba, my Border Collie, carries a delightful, outdoorsy scent in her coat, and I assure you it's not her shampoo. I'm always reminded of Heathcliff, antihero of "Wuthering Heights," saying that his beloved Cathy's hair smells like heather - I'm not sure exactly what heather smells like, but this is how I think of Sheba's scent, a profoundly comforting mix of wool, grass, strawberries, and citrus. Sometimes I grab her head for a kiss and bury my nose deep in the hair on her forehead, to inhale that perfectly-blended aroma. I wish I could bottle eau de Sheba and wear it, that's how delicious my girl smells.

Dogs don't need deodorant; how nice it would be if we could say the same for us humans. People stink, which is why the perfume business is a huge segment of the multi-billion-dollar global beauty industry. Perfume can lift your mood instantly, and it's an important tool in the art of seduction; this is why fragrance advertising has always had significant sex appeal. But if you have a dog, you really want to be extremely careful about selecting your perfume before you spritz it into the air you share with your best friend.

Dogs' sense of smell is legendary - their exquisitely-tuned noses can pick up molecules of scent, which is why they're employed in life-saving search-and-rescue work. Fragrances are volatile, so they become airborne quickly. Once orbiting your airspace, they're inhaled by everyone sharing that space - including Spot. You may notice your dog sneezing or even wheezing after you've spritzed fragrance on yourself. But perfume causes more than just a mild, temporary irritation in canine nostrils.

Perfume is pollution, for people as well as pets. Airborne fragrances actually create serious health problems just as second-hand cigarette smoke does. Many perfumes contain toxic chemicals that you really don't want anywhere near your dog - especially if, like me, you're obsessed with maximizing your pets' longevity. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 95 percent of chemicals used in fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and allergic reactions.

This wasn't an issue before the 20th century, because perfume was traditionally made of natural ingredients, like flowers. Of course, extracting and bottling floral essence is costly, so that's why perfume was historically a luxury enjoyed by royalty and rich people. As more and more people wanted to partake of perfume, synthetic compounds were used to simulate every imaginable pleasant scent from floral to musk. As a result, the cost of perfume went way down so it's affordable by everyone, but this now-popularly-priced luxury carries a hidden cost: intimate exposure to harmful chemicals in the most dangerous way possible - through the pores of the skin.

Fear not: If you're as serious about smelling good as you are about keeping your dogs healthy, know that certain perfumes are still made the old-fashioned way, from natural ingredients. They are not as cheap as their chemical counterparts, but they're definitely worth the extra cost. Besides, practicing safe scents is fun!

One of my favorite 'fumes is Nerola Orange Blossom by Pacifica, whose founder, dog-lover Brook Harvey-Taylor of Oregon, prides herself on producing cruelty-free, vegan products that are free of Parabens, Sulfates, Propylene Glycol, Phthalates, GMOs, Triclosan, and Petro-chemicals. The company's Web site proclaims that its "ingredients are of the best quality and are highly efficacious." I can attest to this brand's efficacy: Whenever I wear Pacifica's Nerola Orange Blossom, I get a lot of positive comments. This blend of sweet and bitter orange, mimosa, and neroli is seriously intoxicating - without being toxic to my dogs or to me.

Another excellent, natural perfume is A Perfume Organic, which offers perfumes blended from USDA certified organic botanicals, and hand-poured in small batches. Founded by New Yorker Amanda Walker, the company has a brilliant signature scent called Green, with notes of rose, black truffle, two chamomiles, and sweet ylang ylang. The product is certified by PETA, plus the recyclable box it comes in is embedded with flower seeds, so you can plant it to make the world a more aromatic place for dogs - and the people who love the way dogs smell.

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