Can Dogs Smell When Something is Wrong? Possibilities

Dogs have long been recognized for their remarkable sense of smell, but their olfactory abilities go far beyond what most people can comprehend. 

Their extraordinary noses have made them invaluable in various fields, from search and rescue to bomb detection. 

But what about their ability to sense when something is wrong with a person? Can dogs really detect diseases, seizures, or even emotions? 

In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of a dog’s sense of smell and explore the scientific evidence behind their uncanny ability to sniff out trouble.

The Power of the Canine Nose

To understand why dogs are such exceptional smellers, we must first grasp the complexity of their olfactory system. 

Unlike humans, who possess approximately six million olfactory receptors, dogs have an estimated 300 million receptors. 

This vast number allows them to detect odors at incredibly low concentrations, making their sense of smell at least 10,000 times more powerful than ours.

Moreover, dogs possess a secondary olfactory system called the vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson’s organ. 

This specialized organ enables dogs to detect and analyze pheromones—chemical signals emitted by other animals. 

By combining their primary and secondary olfactory systems, dogs can gather a wealth of information about their surroundings, including the physical and emotional state of those nearby.

Detecting Diseases

One of the most awe-inspiring abilities of dogs is their capacity to detect various diseases. Numerous studies have shown that dogs can sniff out specific cancers, such as lung, breast, ovarian, and bladder cancers, with remarkable accuracy. 

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Researchers believe that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by tumors are the key to this detection. 

When a dog sniffs a person’s breath or bodily fluids, they can identify these unique compounds, even in the early stages of the disease.

In addition to cancer, dogs have also been trained to detect other medical conditions, including diabetes, epilepsy, and infections. 

For example, some dogs can detect changes in blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes by detecting the scent of ketones. 

Similarly, certain trained dogs can alert their owners to an impending seizure by recognizing specific odors associated with electrical activity changes in the brain.

Emotional Sensing

Dogs are not just adept at detecting physical ailments; they also have a remarkable ability to sense and respond to human emotions. As social creatures, dogs have evolved to be highly attuned to human behavior and emotional cues. 

They can pick up on subtle changes in our scent, body language, and facial expressions, allowing them to gauge our emotional state. 

Studies have shown that dogs can differentiate between different human emotional expressions, such as happiness, fear, and sadness, by analyzing the chemical changes in our body odor. 

In fact, a 2019 study conducted at the University of Lincoln in the UK found that dogs were capable of identifying individuals with a high level of stress based on the smell of their sweat alone.

Training Dogs for Detection

The remarkable abilities of dogs to detect diseases and emotions have led to the development of specialized training programs. 

Dogs selected for these programs undergo extensive training to refine their natural olfactory capabilities. 

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They are taught to recognize and respond to specific odors or changes in odor associated with the target condition. Training methods vary depending on the desired outcome. For medical detection, dogs are often trained using samples from patients with the target disease. 

By rewarding the dog when it successfully identifies the odor, a strong association is created, reinforcing the behavior. 

Positive reinforcement techniques are commonly used to ensure the dog’s motivation and engagement in the training process.

Real-Life Success Stories

There are countless real-life success stories that highlight the exceptional abilities of dogs in sniffing out trouble. 

In one case, a dog named Frankie accurately detected an aggressive melanoma on her owner’s leg, prompting timely medical intervention. 

In another instance, a Labrador Retriever named Daisy alerted her owner to an oncoming seizure, enabling her to seek safety and medical assistance. 

Beyond personal anecdotes, researchers and organizations are working to harness the potential of dogs’ sense of smell on a larger scale. 

For instance, Medical Detection Dogs, a UK-based charity, is actively training dogs to detect COVID-19 by sniffing samples of sweat and urine. 

Preliminary studies have shown promising results, indicating that dogs could potentially be deployed at airports and other public spaces to identify infected individuals.


Dogs possess an extraordinary sense of smell that far surpasses our own. Their ability to detect diseases, seizures, and emotions has captivated researchers and dog lovers alike. 

Through their powerful noses and specialized training, dogs can provide invaluable assistance in various fields, revolutionizing healthcare and improving the lives of countless individuals. 

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As we continue to unravel the mysteries of their olfactory prowess, the bond between humans and dogs only grows stronger, reminding us of the remarkable abilities of our four-legged companions.