If you have a dog, chances are you’ve given him or her a hug. It’s a sign of affection, right? Well, maybe not for your dog. Psychology Today published a story earlier this month that makes a case for not hugging our canine friends. Through a Google Image Search, Stanley Coren, the author of the story, analyzed a random sample of images of people hugging their pet dogs. Out of 250 images, over 80% showed at least one visible sign of stress from the dog, whether that was lowering their ears, yawning. licking their lips and/or licking a person’s face.
So, let’s stay away from touch and focus on another sense: smell. During a TEDxBozeman talk in 2013, Megan Parker spoke about the ways in which dogs are used for conservation efforts around the world:
“They can understand human gestures, tone of voice and even our intent to communicate with them better than any other species,” she says. Parker added that humans have around 5 million olfactory receptor cells while dogs have around 220 million. Dogs use 60% of their brains for olfactory perception; humans use 12%.
Using dogs from shelters who are often not suitable for adoption but are eager to be rewarded for their efforts, Parker spoke about how she uses dogs to help with wildlife conservation work – using scent to help researchers better understand wild animal populations. “We haven’t asked a question they haven’t been able to answer,” Parker says.
But it’s not only conservation that benefits from this heightened sense of smell, she says. There are “’diabetes dogs’ that are telling their owners whether their blood sugar is too high or dangerously low,” Parker says. “[Dogs are] able to predict epileptic seizures; they’re even able to smell bacteria that’s now invading hospitals.”
Regardless of their ability to help us out, dogs also make great companions (but go easy on the hugging). “Dogs change us, and I say for the better,” Parker says.
Watch Parker’s talk in its entirety below: