Secrets of the Snout: The Dog’s Incredible Nose

Book Review & Excerpt
By Frank Rosell
Reviewed by The Bark Editors, July 2018, Updated June 2021
A dog with black truffles

A dog with black truffles

Truffle Hunter and Dogs Search Photo Credit: Jeff Smith–Perspectives/

Photo Credit: Jeff Smith–Perspectives/

This is a fascinating and encyclopedic look at dogs’ amazing scent abilities. Dogs have 125 to 300 million olfactory cells (compared to our measly 5 million), and 33 percent of their brain is dedicated to interpreting odors. No wonder we call upon their noses to help us locate, detect, track and dig up some extraordinary information. Rosell introduces us to a canine cast of ace sniffers: dogs who can detect when cows are in heat; roundworm in sheep; mites (a potentially fatal skin disease) on chamois in the Italian Alps; and if a zoo’s polar bears are pregnant before they go into hibernation. Then there are the Labs: one in Australia who can detect a bacterial disease in beehives and those who’ve been helping track down Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades since 2010. The impressive list of canine scenting accomplishments goes on, and makes for an engrossing and enjoyable story.

Excerpt: A Nose for Truffles

Dogs can learn to recognize different scents even while still in the womb and immediately after birth. If you want to use your dog to find truffles (or something else), it is a good idea to start training early. You can give the puppy’s mother truffles so the puppy learns this scent at an early age. If the mother is fed truffles, the taste goes directly into her breast milk and then on to her puppies. And if you continue with the feeding after the puppy has been born, you have gotten off to a good start in training your dog to develop a particular fascination with the scent of truffles. Some dog owners also spread truffle essence on the mother dog’s teats so the puppy will associate the scent of truffles with something positive. It is important not to feed dogs just any kind of mushroom. Every year there are reports of dogs that are victims of mushroom poisoning. The dog can be fed truffles since they are intended to be eaten and spread by animals. However, other edible mushrooms are not and should not be fed to a dog. Most edible mushrooms are spread by the wind.

Truffle-hunting trials have been held in France since 1969. Here dogs have to find six truffles in a 25 m2 space as quickly as possible and give indications for their finds with their paw. If the dogs eat the truffles, they are disqualified.

Excerpted from Secrets of the Snout by Frank Rosell, copyright © 2018 by Frank Rosell. Published by The University of Chicago Press. Used with permission.

Image courtesy of the publisher

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 94: Summer 2018