Dogs smell. Its something they do very, very well. And I'm not talking about that little toot when company is over, or the wet dog smell when they come in from the rain.
I'm talking olfactory prowess. Dogs have the best noses around. Dogs use 40 times as much of their brains for scent than we do, and can identify smells 1,000 to 10,000 times better than us.
This special ability leads to many dogs having jobs. Dreaded by any snowboarded in an airport, scent dogs are used by customs and security for detecting everything from illicit drugs, contraband foods, right through to explosives and threat materials. They can be trained to detect even the tiniest traces which can lead to the apprehension of very bad people and the saving of untold lives.
Not just security, scent dogs have long been used in hunting. The bloodhound, the king of scenthounds, is prized for its ability to track prey. Originally developed for tracking food, they became used to track escaped prisoners. Now they are deployed in finding lost children, allowing their talents to once again, save innocent lives.
Search and rescue dogs are more than St. Bernard's with whiskey barrels around their necks. These valiant heroes search dangerous terrains to find lost souls, and comb avalanches to find trapped people, or more tragically, their remains.
Now, studies are being run where dogs are being used to detect disease, specifically cancer. This calls on the dog to identify certain compounds produced by tumours. A recent study Ehmann R, Boedeker E, Friedrich U; et al. (August 2011). "Canine scent detection in the diagnosis of lung cancer: Revisiting a puzzling phenomenon". showed that dogs could detect lung cancer with a 71% sensitivity rate. Can you imagine, soon we could have a "lab" test where you breathe in a retriever's face. I wonder what a future "cat" scan will involve.
Recently, I met a local woman who is using her dogs in a more everyday usage, bedbug detection. Her dogs have been trained and certified in detecting these evil and insidious little critters. A very proactive way to prevent outbreaks and spreading of these pests.
Other scents that dogs can be trained to in our everyday life include moulds. With our houses becoming better sealed against drafts with our high efficiency furnaces and airtight window systems, moulds have become a lot larger problem. Mould detection dogs can sniff past barriers, and detect problems you can't see yet, before they become dangerous, allowing remediation and prevention or it re-occurring.
Its great to know that there are canines out there working to protect us from things like these. Dogs with jobs are becoming a bigger part of our lives, thanks to their strengths, special abilities and most of all, their hearts. Whether it’s a scent hound, seeing eye dog, a herding dog, a sled dog, or a service dog for autism or PTSD, working dogs earn their keep the same way our pets earn theirs by giving us love and companionship.