Dogs have a reputation as smellers par excellence, especially when it comes to picking up and following the scent of a specific individual. Whether that reputation is totally deserved is a different discussion.
Back in 2000, Deborah Wells and Peter Hepper turned things around and asked whether dog owners could discriminate the scent of their pet versus that of another. The answer was a resounding “yes.” (The scent stimuli were two dog blankets: your dog’s vs another’s.)
A new study by a group of animal behaviorists in the Czech Republic takes a second bite at the apple. Přibylová et al. (2021) used as scent samples sterile gauze pads worn by the dog under its collar. Owners were presented with six sniff jars: one contained their dog’s sample and five held those of randomly selected other dogs. (This is a tougher test than that used by Wells and Hepper.) The success rate at own-dog-ID was 71% across 53 dog owners which, needless to say, was statistically significant.
There were some other intriguing findings. Men had a significantly higher success rate (89%) than women (64%), one of the few time that men have outperformed women on an odor identification test. Also, owners of dogs kept outdoors did better than indoor-dog owners; owners who fed their pets dry dog food did better than those who served up raw meat; and younger owners did better than older ones. It also turns out that bathing your dog frequently makes it harder to ID its scent.
While these various correlations were statistically significant, the authors caution that they were not strong effects. Still, from my POV, they are most definitely strong leads that are worth pursuing.
Way to go humans! Everyone pat yourself on the head and give yourself a treat.
Lucie Přibylová, Vendula Pilná, Ludvik Pinc, and Hana Vostrá-Vydrová. (2021). Ability of dog owners to identify their dogs by smell. Scientific Reports 11:22784.