If the olfactory ability of dogs seems like a dull topic, be prepared for a surprise. This engrossing book takes on not just canine noses, but what we can do with our own—with a little experience and a good guide.
Dog enthusiast and researcher Horowitz (Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, 2009, etc.), who teaches at Barnard College and runs the Dog Cognition Lab there, is a keen observer of both dogs and people. She reveals how dogs take in the world and what humans can learn from them about the world we are missing. For the scientifically minded, there is a brief exploration of the anatomy of a dog’s snout, but that’s just for background information. For general readers, the author chronicles her illuminating field trips to the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where the skills and the limitations of detection dogs are revealed (think explosives, cadavers, and drugs); to the Northwest for a day with trained truffle-hunting dogs; and to an obedience training club on Long Island, where one of her own pet dogs got to play some “nosework” games. The author’s nose received a workout, too, when she spent time with expert perfumers and with a winemaker, as well as when she embarked on a guided walking smell tour of New York City. While she certainly could not detect all the scents a dog would, she learned to pay attention and to become acutely aware of the city’s odors, both rich and subtle. Like a Mary Roach but with a solid scientific background to her credit, Horowitz is a skilled investigative reporter who takes readers into unfamiliar worlds, shares her experiences there, asks probing questions, and makes those worlds come alive.
Dog owners curious about the lives of their pets will savor this book, but it deserves a wider audience than just animal lovers.