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How Far Away Can Dogs Smell Their Owners? Sense of Smell Explained

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on April 15, 2024 by Dogster Team

In a move. Irish red setter happy to see the owner. The dog jumping near country house

How Far Away Can Dogs Smell Their Owners? Sense of Smell Explained

You may have heard how exceptional a dog’s sense of smell is, but just how exceptional is it? A dog’s sense of smell is around 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than a human’s sense of smell! Dogs can smell their owners (or a person they recognize) from up to 40 feet away. It has been reported that with the help of beneficial conditions, they have been able to smell objects and people as far as over 12 miles which is more than 60,000 feet!

If you are interested in learning more about their impressive sense of smell, keep reading along as we explore man’s best friend’s scent-tracking superpower.


What Affects How Far a Dog Can Smell?

There are multiple factors that can affect the distance that a dog can smell. In the same way that our sight can be affected by environmental factors which improve or detract from our line of vision, environmental factors can affect a dog’s ability to smell. Environmental factors include:

  • Wind speed and direction
  • Temperature
  • Humidity and rain
  • Other competing smells

Each of the above factors can enhance or diminish a dog’s ability to use one of its most powerful tools. A gentle breeze is preferable for a dog seeking a certain scent because the scent molecules can slowly spread out into the air, which will make more available for a dog to catch. Light rain can help stir up and refresh certain smells, and too many smells can distract a dog even if it has quite the ability to filter through most while focusing on the smell it is interested in.

close up of white and tan dog's nose
Image Credit: PICNIC-Foto-Soest, Pixabay

How Important Is Smelling to a Dog?

Smelling is an important sense that dogs use to experience the world around them. The part of the brain dedicated to processing smells is 40% larger in dogs than in humans. In fact, blind dogs have a much less difficult time adjusting than blind humans because they can rely so heavily on smell and sound to understand their surroundings.

The Importance of a Single Sniff

When you are going for a stroll around the block with your dog, and they are spending a little extra time sniffing a spot of grass that seems unexciting to you, know that they are taking in information about the environment, who or what has been there, and processing any changes in their neighborhood—all from that single sniff. When they meet another dog for the first time, their first instinct is to sniff the other. From this sniff, they learn whether the other dog is male or female, happy or aggressive, and even whether the other is healthy or sick. If you are meeting a new pup for the first time, a sniff of your pant leg can give them information about what environment you live in as well.

Separating Scents

As mentioned above, dogs have quite the ability to filter through smells. They can move their nose to focus on one smell while ignoring hundreds of others. If you have ever wondered if you could mask your scent from your dog with perfume or cologne, you can’t. A dog has the ability to separate your scent from a fragrance no matter how heavily you douse yourself.

If you have heard the phrase “they can smell the fear on you”, they weren’t kidding. Dogs can pick up on the scents that we give off when we are experiencing different emotions, like stress and sadness. Even if you’re faking a smile to the rest of the world, you can’t hide your true feelings from dogs.

Outstanding Work

Although it is quite interesting what dogs use their nose for in their everyday life, what is even more impressive is what else their noses can detect. Some dogs are trained to use their incredible sense of smell to help humans. Dogs can help find missing people, sniff out explosives and drugs by working alongside professionals in safety or help in the medical world by detecting viruses like COVID-19 and even diseases like cancer. These are just a few areas that make dogs irreplaceable and invaluable assets to many fields of work in addition to being wonderful companions, thanks to their noses.

german shepherd dog sniffing sand
Image By: DanaTentis, Pixabay

divider-dog paw

Do Some Dogs Have a Better Sense of Smell?

Not all dogs are built the same, and although all dogs have great senses of smell, there are definitely some that outshine the others in the sniffing department. Here is a list of some of the best smellers in business.

  • Bloodhounds
  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers



There is no question that dogs have an impressive sense of smell that is far superior to our own. Dogs use this sense in their everyday life to understand the world around them. They sniff and track things from treats and neighborhood critters to drugs and explosives, find missing people, and can sniff their way back home if they get lost. A dog can smell their owner from up to 40 feet away and in specific cases with ideal conditions, can smell objects and people up to 1,500 times further. This superpower sense has helped in their life and survival and has been an undeniable asset to humans as well.

Featured Image Credit: AlexandrinaZ, Shutterstock

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