Canine Senses

Dogs” senses are generally much more heightened than ours. Because of this, dogs have been able to help us in areas that take advantage of their extraordinary smelling and hearing ability. Breeding further refines these senses.

A Dog”s Vision

Dogs can see far better than humans can. They have heightened peripheral vision and excellent night vision. Interestingly, dogs can sense movement much better than humans, but we see stationary objects more clearly than they do. Since dogs” ancestors hunted only things that moved, they had no need for good stationary eyesight.

A Dog”s Hearing

A dog”s hearing is more acute than a human”s at both a lower volume and a higher frequency. In fact, dogs hear sounds at such a high frequency that humans can”t hear them at all. Again, in the past, this helped them with tracking and hunting down prey in the past.

A Dog”s Sense of Smell

Smell is a dog”s most highly developed sense. Dogs” wet noses dissolve the scent molecules and help them detect smells that humans can”t perceive. Many dog experts believe that the canine sense of smell allows dogs to communicate with one another and helps define their relationship. Dogs use their olfactory senses to interpret other dog”s pheromones and learn important information regarding gender and receptivity to mating.

How Do Dogs Use Their Senses?

Certain dog breed groups have specialized senses. Some have a super keen sense of smell. Others have what might seem like supernatural hearing. Look at the dog breed groups below for specifics.

Hunting Dogs

Hunting dogs, also known today as sporting dogs or field dogs, were bred to help hunters in their pursuit of game. Scent hounds were used in Persia and Egypt, and were the earliest dogs used in hunting. Sight hounds were a European group of dogs that used their amazing endurance to chase down prey. Today, several breeds of dog are descended from this interesting heritage.

Generally, sporting dogs did not actually capture the game they were chasing. Rather, they knew to stop and alert the hunters so they could take the shot. Their incredible sense of smell also allowed them to sniff out birds that had disappeared from sight.

Sporting dog breeds include:

  • Cocker Spaniel
  • English Cocker Spaniel
  • Brittany Spaniel
  • Welsh Springer Spaniel
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Pointer
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Weimaraner
  • Vizsla
  • Irish Setter
  • Gordon Setter
  • English Setter.


Although not technically part of the hunting dog category, several hounds are associated with the group. The Irish Wolfhound, the Borzoi, and the Elkhound have all been used for hunting in the past. The Saluki, the Greyhound, the Bloodhound, the Basset Hound and the Afghan Hound should also be included when discussing dog breeds with a hunting heritage.

These traditional hunting dogs still exhibit many of the traits that were bred into them years ago. If you adopt a sporting dog or a hound for a pet, you can observe how her behavior reflects her ancestry.

Hound dog breeds include:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Basenji
  • Basset Hound
  • Borzoi
  • Beagle
  • Coonhound
  • Bloodhound
  • Dachshund
  • Elkhound
  • Foxhound
  • Greyhound
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Saluki
  • Whippet
  • Wolfhound.

Tracking Dogs

For years, dogs and their keen senses have helped humans in a variety of tasks. Dogs have a unique ability to locate hidden items or people in need of rescuing.

Tracking dogs are still in use today for a variety of tasks. Their sense of smell and their visual acuity are important in police work and search and rescue teams. Because of their keen sense of smell, search teams often use dogs to help track missing people after avalanches and earthquakes to locate those that may be buried.

Dog breeds commonly used as tracking dogs include:

  • German Shepherd Dogs: These dogs are renowned not only for their excellent military and police work, but also for their valuable search-and-rescue capabilities.
  • Saint Bernards: This dog was bred to be an excellent mountain guide with the ability to find lost people on mountaintops. Members of this breed are very skilled at detecting forthcoming avalanches.
  • Rottweilers: These are best known today as guard dogs, but they are revered for their police work as well.
  • Newfoundlands: These dogs are now excellent household pets, but they were bred to rescue people from cold ocean water.

Dogs and Law Enforcement

For years, K-9 units have been used to support law officers. Special training is conducted to prepare them for a variety of tasks.

Bloodhounds are traditionally the dog of choice for K-9 tracking units, but many other types of dog are used today. Dobermans, for example, are renowned for their excellent guard dog skills, and are indispensable to police. German Shepherd Dogs, bred to be shepherding dogs, are valuable resources for police and the military with their extraordinary bomb-detection and tracking ability.

Dogs are used to sniff out contraband, especially in airports. Many officers also bring their K-9 units to classrooms when talking to children about drugs. They are trained to distinguish the scents of various drugs and other items, even when smugglers try to mask the odor of the drugs with interfering substances.

Dogs and the Physically Challenged

Dogs provide much help and security for people with physical challenges. With a good deal of training, dogs can become much more than just good friends. Their owners depend on them for assistance in various tasks, and they can make life easier and better for those who could use some extra help.

Hearing Impairment: With a little training, dogs can be taught to let their owner know when the doorbell is ringing, when a smoke or fire alarm is going off or even when someone is calling the owner”s name.

Visual Impairment: Seeing eye dogs or guard dogs act as the eyes of their owners by skillfully guiding them in public places and at home. Usually, the seeing eye dog is a German Shepherd Dog, Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever.

Mobility Impairment: Dogs assist people with mobility impairments by pulling a wheelchair, picking up dropped objects, opening doors and operating light switches. They can even call 911.

Seizure Alert Dogs: These special dogs help people with diseases such as epilepsy by predicting when a seizure will occur. Scientists think that these dogs may smell a change in a person”s body chemistry that occurs right before the seizure. Recent studies have revealed that dogs can be trained to detect specific scents in people with a range of medical conditions.