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10 Dog Breeds with the Best Sense of Smell

Updated on March 28, 2015
Solaras profile image

Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and the author of a column, Conversations with Champions, for the BCSA magazine, Borderlines.

The Bloodhound's talented nose.
The Bloodhound's talented nose. | Source

Scent is The Dog's Primary Sense

Dogs are born with their eyes and ears closed, with only their sense of smell to guide them to their mother and her milk. As their primary faculty, their remarkable sense of smell continues to astonish scientists. In fact scientists are currently trying to invent an artificial canine nose to compete with the real deal for use in the medical arts and sciences.

A dog’s sense of smell is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours. And the area of a dog’s brain that analyzes olfactory information is 40 times larger than a humans. To give this perspective, we can use the analogy of tossing a ball. Imagine a child can throw a ball 10 feet; a dog would be able to toss that same ball 100,000 feet or 18.9 miles.

Dogs can be trained to accurately detect the presence of explosives, drugs, cancer cells and infectious diseases in patients. Even more amazing, cadaver dogs working in open fields and woods can detect a single drop of blood or something as small as the tooth of a victim. Dogs can tell what direction someone was walking on a path, by discriminating that each step in the direction walked is minutely fresher in scent than the previous step.

So which dog breeds are the superstars of smell? We checked in with the AKC, and here is the list of dog breeds with the best sense of smell.

The Tiny Dachshund Has a Giant Sense of Smell
The Tiny Dachshund Has a Giant Sense of Smell | Source

#10 The Dachsund

The tiny dachshund may be the toughest of all dogs relative to his size. Bred to hunt badgers both above and below ground, these tenacious dogs would latch on to the badger in its underground dwelling, then the hunter would pull the pair out by the dachshund’s tail. Dachshund literally translates from German as badger dog. As two sizes began to emerge in the breed, the larger dachshunds became wild boar and badger hunters, while the smaller version hunted hares and foxes.

A popular breed in the United States, dachsies round out the top ten most popular dogs at number ten. Eager and alert, they are ever ready for a hunt. The dachshund’s nose contains approximately 125 million scent receptors, so these little dogs excel at Earth dog trails, field trials, obedience and even agility. Their happy personalities make them delightful family pets.

Golden Retriever Uses Air Scent to Work Search and Rescue
Golden Retriever Uses Air Scent to Work Search and Rescue | Source

#9 The Golden Retriever

The breed originated in Scotland by crossing Lord Tweedmouth's “yellow retriever” with the Tweed Water Spaniel, then adding in Irish setter and bloodhound, whose offspring were then crossed back to the now extinct tweed water spaniel. The golden retriever is one of America’s most loved dogs and number 3 on the AKC list of most popular dog breeds.

Goldens are regularly used as therapy dogs, guide dogs for the blind and for search and rescue. As air-scenting dogs, the goldens, labs, Malinois and GSDs can work search and rescue at night. Most goldens working search and rescue do it for the simple reward of praise, a sense of accomplishment and a little playtime when their job is done.

More recently they have been trained to identify minute traces of peanuts in foods. These dogs are employed to alert children that are susceptible to violent allergic reactions, to the presence of even the slightest trace of peanut. Renowned for their joyful dispositions and eagerness to please, active goldens make excellent obedience, agility and hunting dogs as well as ideal family pets.

Scent Search and Rescue Training

The Female Black and Tan Coonhound Trails Rather Than Tracks Its Quarry on The Scent Trail
The Female Black and Tan Coonhound Trails Rather Than Tracks Its Quarry on The Scent Trail | Source

#8 The Black and Tan Coonhound

The black and tan coonhound works by moonlight, trailing his quarry and bawling to help hunters locate the dog in the darkness. A cold-nosed hound, they are able to detect cold, convoluted trails. Trailing dogs differ from tracking dogs in that the tracker follows the exact footsteps of its prey. The trailing dog sweeps across a 10 to 15 foot wide path, in a zigzag pattern.

The black and tan variety is a bit more biddable and easier to train that the bluetick. These big athletic dogs make fine house dogs that require regular exercise.

The Bluetick Coonhound Is The Preeminent Trailing Dog.
The Bluetick Coonhound Is The Preeminent Trailing Dog.

#7 The Bluetick Coonhound

The bluetick coonhound was developed from the English coonhound, and is used to trail and tree raccoons. A cold nosed trailing dog, the Bluetick works well on old, cold trails, which makes him the superior tracker of the coonhounds. Blueticks are frequent toungers when trailing, and they bay a “bawling” bark as they track. As they get closer to their quarry the bay becomes a more rhythmic chop.

Blueticks are good house dogs as well as eager hunters, but lack a strong desire to please. This makes them more difficult to train than many of the breeds on this list. Persistence, patience and treats are your best training aids with this breed.

Belgian Malinois used by police and military forces around the world
Belgian Malinois used by police and military forces around the world | Source

#6 The Belgian Malinois

Similar in look to the German Shepherd Dog, the Belgian Malinois is a lighter framed, agile dog. They excel in herding, agility, schutzhund, tracking, sledding and obedience. Used by both military and police departments across the globe, the Malinois has been trained to sniff out bombs and drugs as well as bed bugs and prostate cancer.

This is a very active breed that needs a job to do. Generally these alert dogs can be reserved with strangers. While not an overly aggressive breed, they are protective of family.

The Loving Lab Is America's Favorite Dog!
The Loving Lab Is America's Favorite Dog! | Source

#5 The Labrador Retriever

America’s favorite dog breed is also a fantastic sniffer. Labradors, with their incredible noses, have been trained to detect cancer from people’s breath as well as medically undetectable bladder cancer from patient’s urine.

Hunters have long prized this breed from Newfoundland for their ability to either track or point to their prey depending on the hunter's preference.

Intelligent and easily trainable with an intense desire to please, labs are employed as guide dogs for the blind, are valued members of search and rescue teams as well as K-9 officers for drug and bomb detection.

These playful dogs’ gentle, loving natures make them the ideal family pet or hunting and fishing companion.

The Versatile German Shepherd Dog Has 225 Million Scent Receptors
The Versatile German Shepherd Dog Has 225 Million Scent Receptors

#4 The German Shepherd

This noble herding breed is the darling of police departments the world over, and the second most popular dog in America. With approximately 225 million scent receptors, they tie the beagle for their number of scent gathering receptors. The GSD practices air-scent tracking rather than ground to find its quarry. German Shepherds are used for search and rescue to detect live victims and are used by military and airport security to detect explosives as well as drug enforcement agencies to detect drugs, all while adding more than a little fear factor for potential suspects.

An intelligent and versatile breed, German Shepherds excel at personal protection, schutzhund, herding, agility and obedience. Confident and somewhat aloof, they are not an aggressive breed by nature. However the GSD will stand his ground and defend himself or master with punishing force. They are considered a “one man breed,” fiercely loyal to their main caretaker. They are good with children, once a relationship has been established.

The Lighthearted Beagle is a Scent Hound That Tracks Its Quarry
The Lighthearted Beagle is a Scent Hound That Tracks Its Quarry | Source

#3 The Beagle

The happy-go-lucky beagle takes third in the list of scent superstars. Bred originally to hunt rabbits, these merry little hounds look like foxhounds in miniature. Friendly and nonthreatening, beagles are regularly employed by the USDA and US Customs to search for contraband food and other undesirable items at airports.

Wonderful with children and other dogs, they are the fourth most popular breed in America. Beagles should follow all commands given to them cheerfully, and should never display shyness or resentfulness. Beagles are not droolers, and their short coats are typically odor free. High in drive, these active little dogs need daily exercise, or they may follow their noses into mischief.

The Devoted Bassett Hound is a Close Second for the Best Scent Hound
The Devoted Bassett Hound is a Close Second for the Best Scent Hound | Source

#2 The Basset Hound

Just behind the bloodhound in tracking ability is the Basset hound. Like the bloodhound the long, low Basset, just 14 inches at the shoulder, has large ears that carry scents up from the ground, while a fold under his chin, called the dewlap, traps scents near his nose. Relative to its size, the basset has the heaviest bone of any breed, and is capable of great endurance over various rough terrains.

These gentle dogs were bred to live in packs and are easy companions to live with. The breed is marked for its friendly demeanor and intense devotion to family.

The Bloodhound Wins The Ultimate Sniffer Contest!
The Bloodhound Wins The Ultimate Sniffer Contest! | Source

#1 The Bloodhound

The bloodhound is the preeminent tracking dog for hunting as well as search and rescue. Their large, floppy ears waft scents from the earth up to their noses as they track their quarry, while the heavy folds of skin over his neck and shoulders trap scents near his nose. The nostrils of the bloodhound are large and wide open to absorb the maximum particles possible. The bloodhound has the most olfactory sensors of any breed, with some 300 million scent receptors. They can be used as both ground and air scent tracking dogs.

The bloodhound is an old breed. Their name is derived from the term “blooded hound” referring to breeder’s early efforts to maintain clean lines; blooded means aristocratic in nature. The bloodhound is a tireless and persistent worker. They can be shy and are sensitive to praise and scolding. That said, as a powerful and tenacious dog, they do need to be handled firmly, to remember who is in charge.

Bloodhound's sensitive nose is used by police departments the world over.
Bloodhound's sensitive nose is used by police departments the world over. | Source

Source for all images: [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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    • RockyMountainMom profile image

      RockyMountainMom 2 years ago from Montana

      Awesome hub! Very well written and interesting....I particularly love the way you worded the coon hound description.

    • Solaras profile image
      Author

      Solaras 2 years ago

      Hi RockyMountainMom - Thanks for dropping by! The coonhounds are the real reason the West was won. In the wilderness, people relied on racoons for food, suet and skins to keep warm and trade. A good coonhound kept a family from starving!

    • RockyMountainMom profile image

      RockyMountainMom 2 years ago from Montana

      That's really interesting. It seems like they've stayed central in some parts of the country more than others....but that may just be an uneducated perception.

      It's so amazing what trained dogs can do.

    • Solaras profile image
      Author

      Solaras 2 years ago

      The AKC has coondog events nearly every weekend down here in the South. Coondogs are big business!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      As a letter carrier I like to learn as much about dogs as I can, and this hub packed a lot of valuable information in a very small space. Great job!

    • Solaras profile image
      Author

      Solaras 2 years ago

      Hi Mel - Thanks for dropping by. I might have to write a hub on my experience with a dog bite on a postal carrier and dog court (not my dog of course lol).

    • LindaSarhan profile image

      Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan 2 years ago

      Very interesting Hub!

    • Solaras profile image
      Author

      Solaras 2 years ago

      Hi Linda: Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Miss Muse profile image

      Christine Rogers 2 years ago from Ohio

      I never knew the Golden Retrievers were on the top lists of best dog noses, huh. I guess you learn something new every day.

    • Solaras profile image
      Author

      Solaras 2 years ago

      Hi Miss Muse: The Goldens are wonderful dogs in so many respects!

    • Mister Guy 9 months ago

      I like how some of the top scent hunting dogs are left out of this. i.e. pointers, GSP, spaniels, Vizslas, setters etc. I just doubt that not even one of them makes a top list considering their nose is one of the main factors sought after in the breed creation. Not to mention they are almost always the top dogs in hunting competitions for pointing, tracking, etc.

    • Solaras profile image
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      Solaras 9 months ago

      Glad you like it Mister Guy - lol.

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