It’s (more or less) a given that dogs can reliably identify individual humans by their smell. But what about the other way around? To find out, Dr Deborah Wells and Professor Peter Hepper of the Canine Behaviour Centre, School of Psychology, at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, conducted a set of experiments. A 1m square blue blanket was used to collect each dog’s odour by placing it in the dog’s bed for three consecutive nights. (The owners were instructed not to wash their dog for 1 month prior to the testing.) And then –
“Twenty-six dog owners were required to smell two blankets, one impregnated with the odour of their own dog, the other impregnated with the odour of an unfamiliar dog. Participants were required to indicate which of the odours smelt the strongest, which smelt the most pleasant, and which of the odours belonged to their own dog. Most of the participants (88.5%) were able to recognise the odour of their own dog.”
See: The Discrimination of Dog Odours by Humans in: Perception January 2000 vol. 29 no. 1 111-115.
Two years later, the study was followed-up by another – which concentrated instead on cats :
“Each owner was instructed to collect his/her cat’s odour by rubbing a 1m x 1m blanket back and forwards over the animal’s back 50 times.”
– but this time the pet-owners didn’t do quite so well in sniffing tests :
“Only thirteen (52%) of the participants were able to recognise the odour of their own cat.”
See: Last but Not Least : The discrimination of cat odours by humans in Perception, April 2002 vol. 31 no. 4 511-512
Image Credit : Unfortunately, neither study provides photos of the blankets which were used, so instead we show a ‘Foxy’ Faux-Fur Dog Blanket, available at £70.00 from specialist dog-bedding suppliers Charley Chau Limited, Manchester, UK.