What’s The Scoop On Res­cue Dogs?

Riverbank News - - PERSPECTIVE - Dier­dra McEl­roy Dier­dra McEl­roy is a grad­u­ate of Texas A&M Univer­sity and is an An­i­mal Be­hav­ior­ist spe­cial­iz­ing in ca­nines. If you have ques­tions or con­cerns about the pets in your house, you can get them an­swered through a fu­ture col­umn of Didi’s Dogs.

DEAR DIDI: I am cu­ri­ous about how dogs find peo­ple that are lost or trapped in nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. – Cu­ri­ous in Ripon

DEAR CU­RI­OUS: Hu­mans and all other mam­mals have five senses. Touch, hear­ing, sight, smell and taste. Neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cally, hu­mans are sight dom­i­nant. Thirty to 40 per­cent of our brain is de­voted to sight, as com­pared to only eight per­cent for smell and just three per­cent for hear­ing. Dogs are com­pletely the op­po­site of us. Ca­nines are al­most the com­plete op­po­sites. Forty per­cent of their brain is ded­i­cated to their sense of smell!

Dogs are able to sep­a­rate smells di­rec­tion­ally by which nos­tril the odor passed through. When they ex­hale the air ex­its through the side slits in their nos­tril to pre­vent in­ter­fer­ing with fresh in­com­ing air. They even have an ol­fac­tory or­gan at the bot­tom of their nasal pas­sage that hu­mans don’t have. It is called the Ja­cob­son’s Or­gan and specif­i­cally pro­cesses pheromones which are the chem­i­cals that are unique to each an­i­mal species and ad­ver­tise sex-re­lated de­tails. Dogs are es­ti­mated to be able to smell 10,000 to 100,000 times bet­ter than a hu­man. The vari­a­tion is de­pen­dent on the length of the dog’s nose and there­fore, the num­ber of ol­fac­tory cells. Think of a Pug ver­sus a Ger­man Shep­herd. Yet, even the Pug can smell 10,000 times bet­ter than us! Hu­mans have ap­prox­i­mately three mil­lion scent cells in their noses. Dogs have up to 300 mil­lion cells.

Let’s look at some real world analo­gies to get some per­spec­tive on those num­bers. They can de­tect one drop of blood in three Olympic sized swim­ming pools. An­other trainer said a dog can find one rot­ten ap­ple in among two mil­lion bar­rels! There are var­i­ous true story doc­u­men­ta­tions of a dog’s scent ca­pa­bil­i­ties which are mind bog­gling. A drug sniff­ing K-9 was able to find a plas­tic con­tainer packed with 35 pounds of mar­i­juana that had been sub­merged in gaso­line in a gas tank. A can­cer sniff­ing dog “in­sisted” on a melanoma in a spot on a pa­tient’s skin that doc­tors had al­ready pro­nounced can­cer-free. A sub­se­quent biopsy later con­firmed the dog’s di­ag­no­sis!

When a Search and Res­cue (SARS) dog is work­ing on a scene they are pro­cess­ing all the scents around the scene. If a hu­man is buried in earth­quake rub­ble or an avalanche the dog is look­ing for any smells of a hu­man. Hu­man skin sloughs off ap­prox­i­mately 30,000 to 40,000 cells ev­ery hour. Peo­ple that are lost or trapped may have in­juries pro­vid­ing other smells like blood, urine or in­fec­tion.

Ad­di­tion­ally, our hor­mones, which in­crease un­der stress and pain, can eas­ily be tracked by a dog back to the source. As the smells en­ter their nos­trils they are able to de­cide which way to turn by which nos­tril de­tected the smell first. How ca­nines do de­tec­tion work is a source of fas­ci­na­tion for mod­ern day sci­en­tists and lots of new stud­ies are com­ing out monthly. We have even trained dogs to stay in MRI ma­chines so we can watch their brains process dur­ing cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties. We are even find­ing they have com­pli­cated emo­tions.

Dogs are truly our best friends in nu­mer­ous ways.

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