The Science Behind The Nose of a Gun Dog and Other Cool Facts

I talk to a lot of gun dog trainers in the process of writing this blog, and one training message gets delivered over and over: You need to think like a dog. Recently I received a new book that helped illuminate how a dog thinks. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowtz is not aimed at gun dog owners nor is it a training guide. But it did provide some insight into the world of the dog. Here are a few things I found interesting and helpful:

The Nose Knows: I've always assumed a dog's sniffer worked the same way a human's schnoz did. That is, we take air (scents) in, expel it, then take in some more. But that's not quite the case. According to Horowitz, a dog's nose is built to allow a continual passage of air over the scent receptors. As inhaled air escapes through the slits of the nose it creates a vacuum that pulls in more air. In other words, a dog never loses touch with the scent as air is flowing inward at all times. For a dog, the world of scent can be compared to our world of vision. Imagine that they see the world in scents. Pretty cool.
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Color:** I've always heard that dogs are color blind. Not so, says Horowitz. But they do see colors a bit differently than we do. Yellow, red, and orange don't look that way to your pup. Red resembles a faint green. Remember this when you want pup to use her nose when retrieving a dummy. Toss a red/orange dummy into a field of green grass and it will be camouflaged in its surroundings. (But only do this after pup is rock-solid on retrieving. Don't make early retrieves tough.)

Use Your Eyes: The book also points out that dogs react better to commands when they see the eyes of their trainer. Your dog understands you mean business when you look it in the eye and deliver a command. Sure this isn't always practical when training a gun dog, but it does bring up a mistake I've made a few times. Don't wear sunglasses when training your pup. Let her see your eyes, and she'll have a better idea that you mean business. She'll also have a better read of what you want.
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Your Dog Is Not One of Us:** What I found most interesting was Horowitz's description of umwelt…a word that essentially means you know nothing of a dog unless you know how a dog thinks. For example, when a dog licks your face he's not letting you know he loves you…he's more likely looking for leftover food from your lunch. How does a dog think? Not like us. The problem is when we think they do. When training a gun dog remember to think like your pup…not like a trainer.