All About Beagles and Their Incredible Sense of Smell
Our beagle, Ruby, is a fascinating little dog. She loves to play hard and always seeks companionship when it is time to cuddle up and sleep.
But one thing is obvious, Ruby is driven by her sense of smell.
Beagles are sturdy, medium-sized dogs that resemble a small version of a fox hound. As a member of the hound family, beagles have been around since as early as the fifth century. Bred to hunt prey by scent, rabbits and hare are often their target.
Beagles are also happy dogs with extremely upbeat personalities. But a pet beagle cannot just turn off its hunting instincts and incessant sniffing—an obvious trait noticed when walking one or while visiting a dog park or other outdoor area.
In fact, if you look at the physical characteristics of a beagle (nose, neck, legs, ears, and tail), most everything about its body aids in its ability to track a scent, and track it well!
Beagle vs. Human
- Beagles have 45 times more scent receptors than humans.
- A beagle's olfactory lobe in the brain is about 40 times larger than a human.
- All of a beagle's scent membranes would unfold to 60 sq. in. The same in a human would only be 1 sq. inch. That's like comparing a piece of paper to a stamp!
- A beagle's sense of smell is 1,000-10,000 times greater than a human's.
In order to understand the beagle's sense of smell, it helps to understand the nose itself.
Take a look at it: the nose itself is large, cool, and moist to the touch. The moistness helps dissolve molecules in the air, bringing them into the nose.
And with each sniffing inhalation, scents are trapped in pockets within the nose and are not lost during exhalation. Nerve impulses then "connect" these stored scents to the beagle's highly developed olfactory lobe within the brain.
Additionally, beagles have many more scent receptors than both humans and other breeds of dogs. Finally, the olfactory (scent) area of the brain is said to be about forty times larger in a dog than in a human, making a dog's sense of smell thousands of times stronger than a human's sense of smell!
Look at the chart below. Beagles have the same number of scent receptors as the much larger German Shepherd, and are only second to Blood Hounds in the overall number of scent receptors.
Breed or Species
Number of Scent Receptors
The neck of a beagle is sturdy and long. This characteristic is not without a purpose. The long neck simply allows it to easily drop its nose to the ground and sniff.
If you were to watch Ruby on a walk or at the dog park, you would see her nose to the ground almost continuously. Having a long neck makes this easy to do.
The legs of beagles are relatively short compared to their bodies. Their overall height ranges from 13-16 inches for this 18-35 pound breed.
Now, you wouldn't think legs would have much to do with smelling, but you would be wrong. Short legs make it easy for a beagle to drop its nose to the ground and track a scent.
Beagles' ears are long, soft, and low set on their heads. The combination of these floppy ears and soulful eyes is perhaps what attracts many people to the breed.
However, the ears serve a purpose beyond hearing and the cuteness factor. Beagle ears also aid in tracking a scent.
These floppy ears that are low to the ground when a beagle drops its head to sniff are easily maneuvered to help trap a scent, bringing it towards the nose.
Beagles have a characteristic white tip on their tails called a stern or flag. While this flag does not directly affect their sense of smell, it does serve an important purpose when they are tracking a scent.
Recall that beagles were bred to hunt rabbits and hares. While tracking the scent of a rabbit in tall grass, with their short legs and head dropped down, the only part of a beagle that can be seen is its tail.
While active, a beagle tail is straight with the flag pointing upward, making it easy for the hunter to locate their beagle and not accidentally shoot it instead of the prey.
Knowing all about beagles and their incredible nose, it's not too hard to appreciate their need to sniff everything in sight, as well as out of sight.
I know I am a little more patient with Ruby on walks as she takes her time sniffing her way along.
Beagle traits are even put to good use. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture employs a beagle's sense of smell. The Beagle Brigade consists of 60 canine teams and its sole purpose is to sniff out contraband fruit and vegetables being brought into the country.
Mostly working at border entries and baggage claim areas of international airports, the Beagle Brigade has been known to seize an average of 75,000 prohibited agriculture products per year.
A beagle's sense of smell and physical characteristics that contribute to making it an efficient sniffing machine, combined with its gentle and upbeat personality, make it an astounding breed.