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Can a Dog Smell Water? Canine Smell Capabilities Explored

Written by: Codee Chessher

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Dogster Team

Bright beautiful red shiba inu dog drinks water

Can a Dog Smell Water? Canine Smell Capabilities Explored

Most of us know that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but just how good is it? For instance, can dogs smell water? Yes, they can smell water, sometimes up to 40 feet underground, and even notice some stuff we don’t, like any chemical-like smells or tastes 1. However, cleaner water is thought to have less of a smell than dirty water. For example, a muddy pool of water outside carries a lot more smells than your drinkable tap water or bottled water.

In the wild, smelling water is essential to keep dogs safe. They can identify what water is safe to drink and what’s questionable and more likely to make them sick. This also explains why some dogs start balking at their water bowl when the water gets the least bit dirty.

If you’ve ever wondered about your dog’s sense of smell, including how strong it is and whether it can sniff out things in water, you’re in the right place. Check out the answers to those topics and more relevant info down below.


Can Dogs Smell Through Water?

You might have seen or read about criminals going through or across rivers to avoid police dogs from catching their scent, but is that true to real life? Not really, but sort of. Water does dilute how strong smells are, that much is true. But considering how powerful a dog’s nose is, they can still identify most smells even through water.

Some dogs, like German Shepherds, Porties, and Labs, are especially good at tracking scents like people and game through water. Unlike tracking on dry land, though, water does eventually wash away scents, so their nose works best with water when they are tracking something pretty recent.

Closeup of a beautiful red dog standing in the water and looking into the distance
Image Credit: Olga Alper, Shutterstock

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How Sensitive Is the Average Dog’s Nose?

According to the AKC, the average dog’s sense of smell is more than 100,000 times stronger than ours 2. However, other estimates place the number at just 1,000 or 10,000 times. All this olfactory processing power is thanks to their olfactory receptors, which a dog has up to 300 million of in their noses. Bloodhounds, for instance, usually have the most olfactory receptors out of any dog breed and, therefore, the best sense of smell.

On top of it, the part of their brains that is used for processing odors is 40 times larger than ours! Dogs have been documented to perform some truly mind-boggling feats when it comes to smelling things, and we’ll be listing some of those below for you to skim.

What Can Dogs Smell:
  • Cancer: Yes, dogs can quite literally sniff out cancer with an over 90% success rate!
  • Your emotions: Combined with body language, your dog can basically “smell” your mood.
  • Bed bugs: Dogs can see these little buggers even when we can’t, making them effective at spotting infested bedding.
  • Electronics: Dogs can be trained to sniff out electronics, which are identified via a chemical used in virtually all types of circuit boards.
  • Bombs: Many of you know this one, but dogs can be trained to identify and track the chemicals used in many types of bombs or IEDs.


Final Thoughts

We knew dogs had a strong sense of smell, but feats like sniffing out cancer and tracking trails through water are really something else. Their brains even devote more processing power to analyzing smells, making them living, breathing “smell computers!”

Featured Image Credit: Akim Lakeev, Shutterstock

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