Dog vs. Human Senses

By Caroline Murray – March 1, 2017
Photo by Weston Carls

While you might feel as if you’re the master of your dog, when it comes to the five senses, you may want to think again. Your pups have more advantages than you give them credit for.

First, let’s dispel a popular myth: dogs cannot hear sounds from miles and miles away, but that doesn’t mean we have the upper hand. The reality is that dogs and humans can hear noises from the same distance, but they can hear much higher frequencies than we can. The 18 muscles in dogs’ ears allow them to rotate them, tilt them, and raise or lower them to hear different sounds, but most of us are stuck with mere wiggling at best. Here is perhaps their ultimate hearing advantage: Ever witness your pup snore when the television is blaring, but perk up the instant you even rustle the treat bag? Dogs can selectively listen to the sounds they want to hear and drown out others they find unnecessary. There are some dogs we can beat out though. A few breeds are known for their deafness, such as Dalmatians. But unless you’ve been seeking to actualize that fireman image, chances are your dog can still best you with his or her ears.

When it comes to sight, it’s a much closer race. Dogs’ night vision is incredible, as well as their ability to sense even the slightest of motions. Trying to catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of the eye is easier for dogs too, since their peripheral vision significantly outweighs ours. However, your interior design skills are probably still superior to your pup’s. Humans’ eye for detail is about six times more powerful than a dog’s, and we see color five times better since our eyes have three color receptors, while dogsonly have two. Their world is made up of yellows, blues and grays, and lack our red and orange hues. That’s why canine agility obstacles are usually painted in yellow and blue—those are the two colors dogs can best recognize. We can also focus on objects farther away from us than dogs can, but certain breeds commonly used as guide dogs for the blind, such as Labrador Retrievers, are bred to have our level of visual acuity.

There’s no similar hope for us with it comes to smell—dogs dominate us completely. As humans interpret the world mainly by sight, dogs employ their sense of smell to make judgments. Their noses are 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than ours. When we exhale, we push air through our nostrils and prevent any fresh scents from coming in. Dogs, however, can sniff more or less continuously, and pick up new information along the way. Dogs have been known to detect whiffs of all kinds of hidden odors, from small portions of drugs to tiny clusters of cancerous cells in humans. Their sense of smell has been likened by scientists to the power of picking out one rotten apple in two million barrels or one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic pools. It seems like dogs are pretty unstoppable when it comes to this sense. It’s no surprise that, proportionally, the part of the brain that’s devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times greater in dogs’ brains than in ours.

But finally, we can deliver some ego-boosting news for us humans: we win out easily in one category, at least: taste. Dogs have about 1,700 taste buds, yet we boast more than 9,000. That’s why you can feed Fido the same dry food meal day after day without a complaint, while people thrive on variety and sometimes scorn leftovers. Our superior taste buds allow us to sense more subtleties in flavor and develop stronger preferences, while it’s likely dogs mostly rely on their elevated sense of smell to evaluate their food.

The sense we share most closely with dogs is that of touch. Both humans and dogs use this powerful sense before they have developed most others to form physical attachments to their parents, especially with their mothers who nurse them. This is the same sense that perhaps most strongly connects us to our pups. By petting and rubbing, humans can soothe and calm their canines, and dogs can do the same by cuddling up against people. It is the sense of touch that often brings man and his best friend together, no matter the competition between the other four senses.



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