With 300 million receptors to our mere 5 million, a dog’s nose is estimated to be between 100,000 and 100 million times more sensitive than a human’s. No wonder, then, that our nasally inferior species has sought to unleash the prodigious power of canine shnozzes. Rosell here takes us for a walk with a pack of superhero sniffers including Tutta, a dog with a fine nose for fine wine; the pet-finder pooch AJ; search-and-rescue dog Barry; the hunting dog Balder; the police dogs Rasko and Trixxi; the warfare dog Lisa; the cancer detection dog Jack; Tucker, who scents floating killer whale feces; and even Elvis, who can smell when you’re ovulating. With each dog, Rosell turns his nose to the evolution of the unique olfactory systems involved, which odors dogs detect, and how they do it.
A celebration of how the canine sense for scents works—and works for us—Secrets of the Snout will have dog lovers, trainers, and researchers alike all howling with delight. Exploring this most pointed of canine wonders, Rosell reveals the often surprising ways in which dogs are bettering our world, one nose at a time.
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Dogs at Work
In 1925 diphtheria broke out in Nome, Alaska, and it was vital to acquire the antitoxin serum for those afflicted with the illness. However, with winter storms and impassable roads, it seemed virtually impossible to acquire the serum before the outbreak became an epidemic. Nonetheless, dog relay teams were assembled to deliver the antitoxin, with the final leg of the treacherous journey completed by Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen. With his team of Siberian huskies led by a dog named Balto, Kaasen succeeded in delivering the serum, which prevented a deadly epidemic.
Caught in a blinding snowstorm, Kaasen had almost given up on making it to Nome with the serum until, in a final act of desperation, he appealed to Balto to find the way through the snowstorm. There was minimal visibility, so Kaasen was completely reliant on Balto's sense of smell to reach their destination. In The Cruelest Miles, Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury describe the scene:
[Balto] understood that he had to regain the trail, to find the faint scent of the dogs that had pattered before him that winter. Balto kept his nose low to the ground, his ears flattened against his head to keep out the wind, as he moved slowly over the snow. ... Minutes passed like hours. They were beyond the ridge and still Balto searched. Suddenly, the dog lifted his head and broke out into a run. They were back on the trail. ... Around 5:30 AM on Monday, February 2, Kaasen could make out the outline of the cross above St. Joseph's Church. Within a few minutes he pulled up onto Front Street and stopped, exhausted, his eyes stinging from the cold, dry air, outside the door of the Miners & Merchants bank in Nome. Witnesses to this drama said they saw Kaasen stagger off the sled and stumble up to Balto, where he collapsed muttering: "Damn fine dog."
Balto's life has been covered in a documentary, and there is even a statue of him in Central Park in New York. Steven Spielberg has also brought joy to many children and adults with his popular animated film about Balto's impressive achievement.
The Dog and Humans
Human beings have learned to understand and communicate with dogs through our long-lasting relationship with them. We have developed more than 1,000 dog breeds, each and every one with special characteristics. There are almost 900 million dogs living in households all over the world. There are 75 million dog owners in the United States alone, and 40 percent of these allow their "best friends" to climb into bed with them at night.
Increasingly, more scientific work is being done to analyze experiences with and opportunities for working dogs. However, the field remains underdeveloped, partly because it encompasses so many different disciplines, including agriculture, environmental studies, zoology, entomology, criminology, medicine, psychology, and wildlife biology. It is my hope that this book will contribute to bringing these disparate disciplines a little closer to one another and to opening up new collaborative opportunities in the future. The dog still has a large, untapped potential as a working animal. I also hope that more dogs will have the chance to enrich their lives as working dogs, whereby they will be given a range of tasks for the use of their noses, for their own pleasure and ours. Giving dogs chances to perform work tasks and to make decisions is important for their well-being.
From Wolf to Dog
When and how did the dog become our "best friend"? The Canidae family, which includes both wolves and dogs, arose 50 million years ago. The dog's genome (the complete genetic material contained in a dog) was mapped out in 2003, and the results indicated that the dog stems from the gray wolf. Genetically speaking, a dog is 99.96% wolf. The dog and the wolf have been viewed as belonging to the same species because they can reproduce by mating with each other and their offspring are fertile. The mating of wolves and dogs occurs most frequently between female wolves and male dogs, but can also happen between male wolves and female dogs. Nonetheless, many people use the Latin name Canis familiaris in reference to the dog, and not the subspecies name Canis lupus familiaris, which others hold to be the correct term.
There is little consensus regarding when the wolf and dog went their separate ways. Many research scientists maintain that it occurred only 11,000 to 16,000 years ago. Evidence has been found showing that dogs were buried together with humans 14,000 years ago, which indicates that already at that time dogs were man's "best friend" and protector. In the Razboinichya Cave in Siberia, which we know was once inhabited by humans, the skull of a dog estimated to be 33,000 years old was found. It was most similar to the domesticated dogs from Greenland, a breed that is approximately 1,000 years old and a variety of ancient and modern-day wolves. But this type of dog did not exist long enough to produce sufficient offspring and is therefore not the oldest ancestor of the dogs of today.
It was probably in the region that currently constitutes Germany and Switzerland that primitive humans took in the friendliest wolves as a means of protecting themselves from cave bears and lions. This implies that the taming of dogs first occurred in Europe and not in Asia, as was formerly believed. These findings from 2013 indicate that the domestication of wolves took place as far back as 18,800 to 32,100 years ago, when large parts of northern Europe were still covered by ice. When some of the friendlier wolves began slinking around the camps of these ancient civilizations in search of mammoth flesh, they were welcomed, since they served as watchdogs. Over time with their acceptance into human society, the wolves began eating food that contained more vegetable starch (formed in most green plants). An alternative possibility is that humans sought out wolf dens and captured and tamed the wolf pups.
A 2013 study led by Erik Axelsson — a scientist in evolutionary genetics at the University of Uppsala in Sweden — found thirty-six specific areas in which the genomes of the dog and the wolf are different. Nineteen of these areas contain genes involved in brain development, which could explain why dogs are friendlier than wolves. The researchers also discovered that dogs have ten genes that help them to digest starch and break down fat. Three of these genes make dogs better equipped than wolves to break starch down into sugar, so it can be absorbed. Most dogs are raised by humans, and their diet can play a very important role in their food preferences later in life. Unlike adult dogs, puppies have a clear preference for meat. We also know from epigenetics (the study of heritable changes in gene expression and how the genes are employed) that offspring are influenced by the experiences of their parents. For example, a laboratory mouse that has been trained to avoid certain smells could pass this learned behavioral trait on to its offspring. This is called epigenetic DNA programming, whereby the genes can be switched on or off. More of this type of research is being done and will potentially contribute to explaining the large differences we find between wolves and dogs, including behavioral differences.
In 2014 postdoctoral student Adam H. Freedman and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed the genomes of gray wolves from three locations (China, Croatia, and Israel) where the domestication of the gray wolf may have occurred. They also studied the genome of a basenji from Africa and that of an Australian dingo. Both of these dog breeds come from areas without gray wolves, and therefore they could not have at any time mated with gray wolves. The researchers found that the gray wolves from the three locations had more in common with one another than with dogs. They also studied the genome of a boxer and discovered that the dog breeds from the three respective locations had more in common with one another than with the gray wolves. This indicates that modern-day dogs and gray wolves represent sister branches on the evolutionary tree and that they both stem from an older, now extinct, common ancestor. These findings are inconsistent with earlier speculations that the dog evolved from one of the three gray wolf populations.
Some wild dog packs have a dominance hierarchy, in which individual dogs will have advantages related to food and mating, but this is not as pronounced as in wolves. In the case of wild dogs, it is not an alpha pair that leads the pack; instead, the leader is usually an older and high-ranking individual dog. High-ranking dogs who are met with appeasement behavior in both greeting ceremonies and in hostile contexts more frequently lead the pack than dominant dogs who are greeted with appeasement behavior only in hostile situations. In other words, dominant dogs are those with the largest number of friendly relationships, and the friendliest dog of all is often the leader of the pack. Whether a dog wins or loses a game of tug-of-war will not make it more or less dominant in relation to its owner. Dogs prefer not to challenge higher-ranking pack members. This trait is what helps us to have control over and handle our dogs.
The Nose at Work
The dog has a very keen sense of smell, which has been used in the service of humans for many thousands of years. In general, the dog's nose is 100,000 to a million times more sensitive than the human nose. The dog's rhinencephalon (smell-brain) is almost seven times larger than that of humans, and with their fantastic sense of smell, dogs are able to perform many work tasks for us. It all began when humans put the dog's nose to good use for hunting. We continue to discover the ways that dogs' noses can be used to help us. Dogs have been used in wars, not only as protectors but also to find explosives and land mines following a war. In the course of the past forty years, the use of specially trained sniffer dogs has increased dramatically. These dogs typically search for odors from human beings or the particular odor emitted by a specific object. Search and rescue dog organizations use dogs to search for missing persons; customs authorities have dogs specially trained to detect narcotics, cash, and other smuggled goods; and police dogs are trained to find weapons, blood, and semen. The armed forces use dogs trained to search for bombs, mines, and other explosives, while pest control companies have dogs trained in the detection of carpenter ants, rats, mice, and bedbugs. In short, thousands of dogs protect us from criminals, smugglers, terrorists, arsonists, and pests. Dogs are also used to sniff out alien or endangered animal and plant species, to locate contaminants, and to detect diabetes and individual types of cancer at very early stages.
Dogs can be trained to sniff out just about anything, and our imagination is virtually the only limit when it comes to potential work tasks for canines. The most important thing is that dogs can be trained to communicate to us the information they acquire by using their noses. The dog is the most successful mammal on earth after human beings, and one of the reasons for this is that they are very willing pupils. Examples of their unique learning capacity are found in the 2013 book The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood. The stories in the book about the border collies Chaser and Rico illustrate dogs' learning abilities and their potential brain capacity. Chaser was born in May 2004, and when she was five months old, John W. Pilley, a retired psychology professor at Wofford College in South Carolina, started teaching her different words. Over the next three years, Chaser learned and remembered the names of 1,022 different objects. These included everything from stuffed animals and balls to Frisbees and different plastic objects. In the course of 145 tests using 20 objects in each test, Chaser identified in all cases a minimum of 18 out of 20 objects (approximately 90 percent correct). In another test, Chaser was trained to pick up an object with her mouth, move the object with her front paw, or touch the object with her mouth or nose. For example, when Pilley ordered her to "pick up Lambs," she was supposed to pick up the stuffed animal Lambs with her mouth. She was given fourteen similar work tasks and performed all of them correctly.
Chaser also knows that different objects can be one of many in a category. For example, "ball" is a category containing 116 round and bouncing objects. She could also find an unfamiliar object by logically eliminating other potential alternatives. She managed in eight successive repetitions to retrieve an object she had never learned the name of because this object was grouped together with otherwise familiar objects. Twenty-four hours later, however, she had forgotten the name of these new unfamiliar objects. For Chaser to develop a long-term memory of unfamiliar objects, an exercise involving repetition is required. In a final test, Chaser was given the command "to ball take Frisbee" followed by "to Frisbee take ball." She understood which object was to be brought to the other in 78 percent of the cases when a number of familiar objects were used in a sentence. Her training ended after three years, not because the limit for Chaser's learning capacity had been reached, but because Pilley could no longer spend four to five hours a day training her. Chaser learned our language in exactly the same way as a three- or four-year-old child would. Most of the words she knew could be used in different contexts and in new sentences without the need for additional learning.
Through the domestication of dogs, we have developed a unique bond with them. If we have one dish that smells of food but point at another dish, the dog will not use its sense of smell; it will go in the direction we are pointing instead. This shows how much they trust us. Less surprising is the fact that a dog trusts its owner more than strangers. Without training and socialization, dogs are actually better than wolves and chimpanzees at understanding our hand gestures, although chimpanzees are smarter than dogs in most other situations. Working dogs are the most intelligent of all when it comes to reading our movements. They are extremely motivated when it comes to carrying out a task correctly, even if they do not receive an immediate reward. When it comes to determining the best dog breed, there is no scientific evidence demonstrating that one breed is smarter than another. The most common work dogs are German shepherds, Belgian sheepdogs (Malinois), English springer spaniels, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and border collies. These breeds are intelligent, strong, loyal, impressionable, and, above all, willing to learn.
Dogs are able to adapt to fluctuating work hours because they have a naturally short sleeping pattern with frequent sleep-awake cycles. Still, it is important to remember that dogs also need to take breaks when working and that four hours of work a day is a good rule of thumb.
It is not only scientists and those who use dogs in their work on a daily basis who are interested in work tasks for the dog's nose. Nose work is becoming popular in many different communities internationally. Courses in the specialized training of sniffer dogs are becoming more and more common, both in a professional capacity as well as within the private pet market. It is both physically and mentally stimulating for dogs to use their noses, and it is an activity that is good for all dogs. For example, a dog can easily be taught to search for treats, to find different objects (toys or things we have lost, such as car keys), and to follow different trails (of a pancake, a hot dog, or human). The video Nose Work describes these search games in detail.
Dogs can carry out searches in laboratories and other locations. There are many ways to organize scent-detection training for dogs. The dog can either be transported to a specific site to carry out a room search, small terrain search, or field search, or a scent sample can be transported to the dog when it is working in the field. Scent samples can also be transported to a dog in the laboratory. The dog becomes a kind of detector and sometimes can be even more effective than an analysis instrument. When a scent sample is transported to a dog in a laboratory setting, the dog is presented with a multiple-choice method. Over time, a number of devices have been developed, each requiring its own search methods, such as a labyrinth, scent discrimination box training/box training apparatus, training platforms, scent detection boards, and a training wheel/carousel. The last three are the most common. Originally, cans were attached to chairs that could be moved around; later the use of a round table was implemented. This multiple-choice method was developed for the first time in the 1960s and is used for the specialized training of many types of sniffer dogs, such as those used for tracking semen, blood, explosives, mines, mushrooms, and environmental toxins.
Excerpted from "Secrets of the Snout"
Copyright © 2014 Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS.
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Table of ContentsForeword by Marc Bekoff
1 Dogs at Work
2 A Dog’s Sense of Smell
3 A Good Judge of Character
4 Pet Finder
5 Search and Rescue
6 On the Hunt
7 Police Work
8 Customs and Border Control
10 Medical Detection
11 Field Assistant
12 Pest Detector and Building Inspector
13 Other Work Tasks for Sniffer Dogs