“It is indisputable that cows were milked, goats were tended or pigs were bred before people; Before they invented agriculture or written language, even before they had permanent homes, people had dogs in their lives or dogs had people in their lives,” I wrote at the time.
Aside from being a best friend and companion, dogs have unique qualities that we have used over the centuries to help and protect us in many ways. Perhaps none greater than her sense of smell. “With up to 300 million olfactory receptors, dogs are among the best scent detectors in wildlife,” write a team of forensic and biochemical researchers in a post on TheConversation.com. “In comparison, the human nose contains only around 6 million olfactory receptors. Dog brains also devote 40% more brain space to analyzing smells than humans.”
Beyond their natural instincts, we’ve been able to train dogs to use their sense of smell to sniff out everything from illegal drugs to agricultural pests to missing people.
“Dogs accomplish this by successfully detecting the odors of substances called volatile organic compounds, which are specifically associated with these targets. Trained dogs can not only detect these volatile organic compounds, but often with greater sensitivity than analytical tools,” say the researchers. This unique sense of smell has also been successfully used to detect “unique ‘biomarkers’ in the exhaled air of patients with certain diseases or chronic conditions, including cancer and diabetes, and to detect seizures before seizures in individuals with epilepsy.”