Air Scenting

Air scent occurs when a disturbance is made by whatever has recently passed through the air (eg. an animal, human, or a toy that has been thrown for the dog to retrieve). It is affected by atmospheric conditions - temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction - and the time that has elapsed since the air was disturbed. Air scent disappears more quickly than ground scent.


Dogs detect scent molecules in two different ways - sniffing the air for traces of a particular scent, or from sniffing the ground or objects with scent on. Some dogs seem to have a preference for air scenting or ground scenting but all dogs are capable of doing both to some degree or other.


Examples -

  • Your dog can detect the scent of any treats or toys that you are carrying in your pockets, hands, bumbag etc. As soon as you begin your walk, your dog will know exactly what you have hidden around your person for its reward for "good behaviour". This is why so many dogs do not come back when called - they already know what the handler has to offer them and there is no element of surprise or anticipation for the dog. This is why our treat boxes are so effective - the dog cannot detect what type of different foods the handler is carrying until the lid is taken off. I always enjoy watching a dog's look of surprise and sudden interest when a treat box lid is opened and it suddenly detects all the different and enticing food scents that suddenly appear in the air around the handler. Don't underestimate the power of a pleasant surprise on a dog's sense of smell when you are training a dog - it can be an extremely effective photo!
  • Another misunderstood aspect of the sensitivity dogs have to air scent is when dogs bark "for no apparent reason". What is actually happening is that the dog is detecting the scent of other dogs (and/or humans) that are passing its territory, even when the doors and windows are tightly closed or when the "intruder" is a long distance away. I have plenty of instances where dogs that are in houses, sheds or kennels detect the scent of passers by in the wind and begin barking a territorial warning, or bark to communicate as the dog feels lonely and stressed. An amazing example of this is when I am walking my dogs on the Malvern Hills and we come to a valley where houses are built at the very bottom and are a great distance from the high path that we walk on. As soon as we turn into this part of the Hills a household of dogs that live at the bottom of the valley begin howling and barking (what the neighbours think I can't imagine as there is no way that they can see us walking on the path above!) and stop as soon as we have walked downwind of the property.
  • Dogs use scent a great deal when compiling environmental photos of enjoyable or threatening events to store in their long term memory. One of the most obvious examples of this is when driving your dog to the seaside, or agility shows, that it has visited in the past. The dog can detect the same environmental scents in the air as it did when it last visited the location and this photo triggers anticipation and excited behaviour from the dog.


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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