Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Yeah, man, I smell what you mean.

Dogs and humans — Freddie and I — connect in a multitude of extraordinary ways. Sometimes he seems to know exactly what I'm thinking; other times, our "communication" is full of Pinteresque non sequiturs and various WTF moments. 

One thing that Freddie's medical alert gig has helped me to understand better is the unimaginable (for me) extent to which his world is all about SMELL. If Freddie's olfaction is on par with Mozart's musicality, then my ability to notice when the garbage needs taking out is the equivalent of bashing a Fisher Price xylophone with a spoon. For him, everything has a smell — not just one smell but a veritable symphony of distinct odours. And it's not just the things that are physically present in the moment. In the photo below, I'd bet big money he's still smelling, among other things, the KFC drumstick he dug up several days ago (and was cruelly forced to part with).

There are no bad smells in Freddie's estimation — at least nothing from which he actively recoils.

Dumpsters ...
Dunnies ....
Sushi-smeared polypropylene food containers that shouldn't be placed in curbside recycling bins ...

It seems they're all just smells to him. Though Freddie wouldn't say "just smells," I'm sure. They're SMELLS ... his primary way of navigating, recognizing, and appreciating the features of his world.

I did a little experiment. Freddie was extremely interested in the smell of this patch of dead leaves by the dog park:

I decided to let him snuffle and sniff and roll around for as long as he wanted. I looked at my watch and noted the time. I got bored. Fortunately there was this little gnome's house of a tree for me to photograph while I waited .... and waited .... and waited ...

Four and a half minutes! That might not sound like much, but scroll back up and see if you can contemplate that patch of dead leaves for four and a half minutes. Granted you can't smell it or touch it, but trust me (I tried): if you're not a botanist, you'd need to go into some kind of meditative state, a hyper-heightened awareness of every vein in every leaf. Freddie, on the other hand, could have been watching Hamlet at the Globe. He was completely rapt! 

And all I could detect was a pile of brown leaves.

My olfactory retardation explains my resistance to a common (and admittedly practical) bit of dog training advice: when out for a walk with your dog, you decide when and where the sniff breaks happen. Fine from the human perspective, but if you're the dog, and your sniffing is being managed by a boss whose nose is almost entirely decorative ... well, that just seems unfair. 

A case in point: how could I know the dirt would be better than the flowers?

Of course Freddie's nose is also the source of one of our most powerful connections. He may not understand the full implications, and he's still figuring out how I want him to communicate what he knows, BUT he knows what my blood sugar is doing all the time. He knows I have a peculiar spectrum of sugar-related smells that's far more interesting than Paul's, or most other people's. He knows that when the sugar-smell drops to a certain intensity, we both get to have treats. As we did this morning: I had a mandarin orange (ah, the smell!), and Freddie had liver. 

Hey, whaddaya know? Three half-decent readings in a row ...

Freddie's hearing is also much better than mine. He hears/smells Roscoe down the street coming out to say hi long before I do.

And his motion detection is something to behold. That Tim Hortons cup skimming across the tennis court in a swift breeze didn't stand a chance. (Too bad I wasn't coordinated enough to catch the pounce. I did, however, throw the cup in the trash when Freddie was done playing.)

Dogs don't have the kind of colour vision we humans enjoy, but nor do they see in black and white. Something sort of like this, from what I've learned ...

However, if smells were colours, this is what Freddie would see ...

Have a smellourful day! 


  1. I heard on CBC radio one day that dogs have something like 240 MILLION smellers/smell sensors. And I know from personal experience with Wiley, that there is really no bad smell. Dead seal is the new Givenchy.

    1. Just keep that info away from Paul when he starts shopping for my birthday!


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