Study Finds Dogs Love Certain Scents · The Wildest

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Dogs Have Favorite Scents, Study Says—And No, It’s Not Just the Smell of Food

So, go ahead and get that lavender-scented candle.

by Sio Hornbuckle
May 8, 2024
Woman and dog in lavender field.
RossHelen editorial / Alamy

A dog’s sense of smell is so powerful, it’s kind of hard to wrap our heads around it as humans. There’s evidence that pups can smell stress , fear , certain types of cancer , and COVID-19 — and working dogs have been trained to smell drugs, explosives, and lost or trapped people.

“A dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive and accurate than a human’s,” says veterinarian Dr. Lindsay Butzer. “Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in humans.” 

So, if there are certain scents that you can’t get enough of (like that heavenly section of the mall that has a Bath & Body Works), the same is likely true for your dog — times 50. A 2022 study published in found that most dogs favor a few specific scents. And turns out they might even be some of the same as yours.

Dogs’ favorite smells

To find out which scents dogs favor, researchers presented 32 odor samples to 14 different dogs. Cameras recorded the dogs and tracked their interest in the different scents throughout multiple trials. When dogs sniffed for longer than two seconds, this was considered a positive interaction. 

They found that dogs loved lavender, blueberry, blackberry, peppermint, and rose. Lavender, in particular, has researched benefits for pups and humans alike. “Lavender has been proven to affect a variety of species (including dogs and humans), with the scent of lavender shown to lower the heart rate of dogs … as well as increasing the rest and sitting time while riding in a car,” wrote the study’s lead author, Agata Kokocińska. 

And we didn’t need a study to tell us this, but the results also showed that dogs really, really love the smell of food. Obviously. “The odor of food was always preferred by the dogs over the other smells presented in the same trial,” Kokocińska wrote. 

Using smells for enrichment

The sense of smell in dogs is not only a highly developed sense, but also plays a huge role in the animal’s welfare,” Kokocińska wrote. In humans and dogs, scents can evoke past memories and impact mood. 

Knowing how important scents are to pups, some shelters have begun using scent enrichment to calm dogs. Morag Greaney, the former adoption and foster supervisor at McKamey Animal Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, used to spray essential oils mixed with water onto the shelter grounds daily.

He believed the scents calmed the dogs and the variety of new smells improved their environment. “I would absolutely recommend that dog owners use scents with their animals,” Greaney said.

Use caution

Just keep in mind that many essential oils are dangerous for pets — including cinnamon, peppermint, and pine. The more concentrated the oil, the more dangerous it is, so keep your pet a safe distance from essential oils, and be sure the scent is not on the no-no list (good news: Lavender oil is generally safe for dogs).

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) advises, “Using an oil diffuser for a short time period in a secured area — one that your dog or cat cannot access — is not likely to be an issue.”

Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.

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