Study shows dogs “see” with their super-sniffer noses

Everyone knows dogs have the best noses on the block.

But now scientists have found those “highly sensitive” sniffing skills might actually help pooches see, too — something not yet shown in any other species.

A study published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience found vision and the sense of smell are actually connected in the brains of dogs.

A team of vets, including lead author Dr. Philippa Johnson from Cornell University in New York, conducted MRI scans on 23 healthy dogs. They mapped the olfactory bulb, which is the part of the brain dealing with smell, to the occipital lobe, which is the visual processing region.

They found a connection using 3D modelling and virtual dissections to find extensive white matter networks essentially from where smells are recognized to where sight is processed.

“We’ve never seen this connection between the nose and the occipital lobe, functionally the visual cortex in dogs, in any species,” Johnson said in a statement.

The highly sensitive olfactory system of the domestic dog had been largely unexplored, according to the authors.

But what they have found

“It makes a ton of sense in dogs,” Johnson added. “When we walk into a room, we primarily use our vision to work out where the door is, who’s in the room, where the table is. Whereas in dogs, this study shows that olfaction is really integrated with vision in terms of how they learn about their environment and orient themselves in it.”

The research backs up what veterinarians and owners have seen in blind dogs. Despite lack of vision, these animals still function “remarkably well,” according to researchers.

“They can still play fetch and navigate their surroundings much better than humans with the same condition,” Johnson added. “Knowing there’s that information freeway going between those two areas could be hugely comforting to owners of dogs with incurable eye diseases.”

It seems a dog’s nose really does know.

A Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever stops to smell the flowers.

About the author

Recovering newspaper reporter.

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