Freedom, a beagle trained by Jeremy Ecker
Freedom, a beagle trained by Jeremy Ecker STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Dogs: What's the secret of their sense of smell?

If you’ve ever seen a dog, you know they like to sniff — the ground, people, each other’s butts. They like to smell just about everything. But why? We’re digging into the science of smell and how dogs are able to decode things we can’t even begin to imagine.

Right-click to download episode transcript.

We spoke with Dr. Anneke Lisberg, an ethologist at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Read more about some of her research here.

Anneke Lisberg and her dog Canyon.
Dr. Anneke Lisberg and her dog Canyon. Molly Bloom

We also paid a visit to PawPADs, an organization that trains service dogs for people with physical disabilities, diabetes and autism.

Linda Ball introduced us to Breezy, who’s training to be a diabetes assistance dog. Here they are:

To train Breezy, Linda uses samples (pictured below) collected from people with diabetes. The person will breathe onto a piece of gauze when his or her blood sugar level is low and they put the gauze into a small tube. Then, Breezy is trained to recognize the scent of a person’s breath when his or her blood sugar level is low or high.

Sample used in training Breezy, a diabetes assistance dog.
Sample used in training Breezy, a diabetes assistance dog. Molly Bloom

This episode was originally released on November 16, 2014. Listen to that version here:

Dogs: What's the secret of their sense of smell?
by Brains On!