By Terry Jester
Understanding how the dog experiences the world through its five senses will help give insight into how dogs are different from humans.
Understanding the dog’s five senses and how they relate to the dog as a species and also as a particular breed will help give the owner a better understanding of why dogs of different breeds act similarly in some situations and differently in others.
A dog’s sense of smell is much better than a human’s. It’s like saying that they can smell in color compared to our only being able to smell in black and white.
The dog’s vision, although better than ours in darkness, lacks when compared to ours when it comes to seeing color. Dogs can see some color, but not nearly the richness that people experience.
Because dogs, like humans, see with binocular vision, they can see depth. This means that they can distinguish details such as what a person looks like compared to someone else. They will notice a different hairstyle, but not necessarily a different hair color.
When compared to humans, a dog’s hearing is superb. They can hear frequencies and at volumes people can not hear.
The sense of touch varies the most among breeds. Some dogs are very sensitive to touch, others are not.
Dogs, as a species, can hear and smell better than humans. They can see about the same, all things considered, but their sense of taste and touch is muted when compared to people. They don’t have as many taste buds on the tongue or nerve endings on the surface of the skin.
We have, over many generations, bred dogs to use their senses to our benefit. We have fine tuned some breeds to have an even better sense of hearing, sight, and smell, and dulled other breeds skin sensitivity to allow for working in very harsh conditions.
This gives us guard dogs with superb hearing, hunting dogs with an incredible nose, herding dogs that can pick out a stray ewe from very far away and retrievers willing to repeatedly jump into icy cold water.
But, it also gives us over- reactive, noisy barkers, hounds who care more about the next scent than what the owner wants, border collies and the like who over react to anything odd-looking, and Labs who can’t feel the owner tugging on the leash to get their attention.
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. As humans, we can only imagine what the dog’s world is like. But, with a better understanding of the dog’s five senses, I’m hoping that we can at least understand it a little better.
Terry Jester is a nationally recognized expert on companion animal behavior. She is regarded by The Humane Society of the United States as being, “Humane and effective in dealing with problem pets and their owners." Connect with Terry on her website.