The Nose Doesn’t Always Know

Much has been made about a dog’s powerful sense of smell. This unique skill qualifies them to find bombs, drugs, and lost or trapped people. I actually looked up how a search and rescue dog operates. Yep, it’s by scent.

Alas, Pettigrew’s schnoz is lacking. Although he thoroughly enjoys sampling the olfactory delights on his daily walks, when it comes to precision, he leaves a lot to be desired.

Many is the time some choice tidbit falls on the kitchen floor and Pettigrew springs into action. He sniffs this way. He sniffs that way. He appears to be triangulating on the location of the delicacy. Eventually we start tapping our foot next to the item to facilitate his retrieval because . . . Pettigrew’s sense of *hearing* is phenomenal. His ears more than make up for what his muzzle lacks.

Just to share some of the truly astounding sounds Pettigrew discerns

  • He loves live music and lifts his voice in song when the blues are played on the piano. See He’s Got a Song In His Heart. At the bottom of the post is a recording of my older son playing blues piano. Pettigrew starts singing scat at minute 1:06. However, he is not at all inspired to sing along to the guitar, mellophone, clarinet, drums, or recorder. We’ve tried them all.
  • He can discern the sound of a mail truck even when it is out of sight. This skill means that I keep a firm hold on the leash at all times since my ears are not as finally attuned. However, other motors that seem like they would garner a response he ignores completely, like a wood chipper.
  • When it comes to food, he is especially alert. From a seemingly deep slumber, he springs alert at the soft hiss of air and scratch of metal against metal when I lift the tab on a can of dog food or the dull splat of some scrambled eggs hitting his bowl.
  • When I come down in the morning, he has learned by sound to figure out whether I am making breakfast, which means his breakfast will be coming up too, or getting ready to take him for a walk. If the latter, he feels no urgency to get up from his comfy nest on the sofa until I approach with the leash. 
  • In Pettigrew’s mind, a special place in hell is reserved for the mail carrier who stomps on to our porch, skateboards whose wheels scratch the asphalt, and thunder that booms indiscriminately.

But even knowing all this, I was surprised the other day when, trying unsuccessfully to get him to come in from the yard, I went into the kitchen and opened his bag of treats. Before I had even pulled one out he was beside me, eager and expectant. Could he really hear the rustle of the bag from the back yard? I believe he could.

As any good mother does, I ponder what contributions Pettigrew might make to society. I’ve scratched off bomb sniffing dog, search and rescue dog, and service dog (for the latter see Pettigrew will never pass as a service/guide dog). 

I now just need to figure out how to help him harness his particular superpower for good. 

4 thoughts on “The Nose Doesn’t Always Know

  1. Fantastic! I believe there are service dogs who hear for hard of hearing and deaf people. I wonder if he can hear rodents…


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