Dogs Find Food by Following Stinky Breath

More on PawNation: animal behavior, AnimalBehavior, behavior, breath, communication, dog, dogs
dog sniffing picture

"Yum, essence of Alpo." Photo: TheGiantVermin/Flickr

When a dog wants dinner, he knows how to sway you: the sweet-faced stare, the frantically wagging tail, the irresistible raising of the eyebrow and cocking of the head. When communicating with their four-legged friends, however, dogs don't bother laying on the charm. They just figure out where to look for food by taking a whiff of each other's breath, reports New Scientist magazine.

Scientists at the Institute of Zoology in Zurich, Switzerland, reported their findings in the journal Animal Behavior. The experimenters hid treats behind one of four barriers and taught dogs where to find them. They then turned the dogs loose to head to the secret spot for more treats. Sometimes the snacks were right where the dogs expected to find them; other times, the dogs were tricked and the usual spot came up treat-free. In both cases, a group of other dogs observed their treat-hunting comrades. These observers had no idea which hidden corners contained the scrumptious snacks.

Afterward, the observer dogs were allowed to romp with -- and sniff -- the treat hunters. If the treat-hunting dog had successfully found a snack, the observer dog often headed behind the barrier that the first dog had visited. But if the first dog had come up empty-pawed, the observer dog tended not to visit any particular barrier first. The researchers had taken care to remove all scent clues from behind the barriers, so the dogs weren't just following their noses. Only when a treat hunter's breath smelled like food did the observer dog follow his lead in search of his own snack.

Rats, monkeys, and even bees follow the lead of family and friends in order to find food, so it's no great surprise that dogs also communicate this way. What is surprising is that they don't lose their appetites after catching a whiff of dog breath.

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