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The Nose Knows...
or does it?

by Steve Rafe, editor of the column "About Dogs" in Quail Unlimited magazine

Do you want a dog that "smells good?" Not a bad objective, but here's a university Ph.D. who wants to be sure your dog smells well.

No, he's not an English professor. He's Larry Myers, a doctor of physiology / neurophysiology, and a veterinarian. He's also a member of the faculty of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. Actually, he doesn't want you to change your grammar: He's got a new way to help you make sure your dog's sniffer is working right.

Determining the Threshold

After five years of research, Dr. Myers has developed a simple, accurate kit to test any dog's sense of smell. He calls it a Smell Threshold Test Kit, or SMETT, for those who prefer nicknames. Doctor Myers is President of Myers, Brown-Myers, Inc., an independent firm which manufactures and markets the SMETT kit. The firm is not affiliated with, or sponsored by, Auburn University.

How It Works

If your dog, ordinarily a good hunter, has not been finding birds as well as usual lately, this may tell you why. Especially if your buddies' dogs are locating the ones your dog apparently ran right by. SMETT has one specific purpose: To test your dog's sense of smell. It won't tell you whether the dog will be birdy, and it won't tell you whether he has good field potential. It also doesn't factor in such variables as the dog's skills level, terrain, weather, motiva tion, owner's attitude and behavior, or the dog's health.

But, the kit does test a dog's ability to smell, and that's important. Myers says people can use his kit to test a dog's sense of smell before purchasing (or selling) the animal, before putting train ing time into a dog, to select breeding stock, and to detect the effect of diseases. In fact, below average readings could mean any of a number of diseases are present.

Not A Forever Thing

Says Myers, "A dog's sense of smell is not forever. A variety of diseases have been shown to reduce or destroy the sense of smell." He adds that the effects from some illnesses may not be reversible -- and could be present even when the dog shows no signs of being ill. Testing the dog's sense of smell at least once a year will tell whether his sense of smell is working well.

Results from Testing

Among the more than 200 dogs tested so far, Myers recently evaluated five hunting dogs which included three field-trial pointers, a pointer that was used strictly for hunting, and a hunting beagle. All had been brought to him with complaints about performance in the field. Myers found that three had no "olfactory deficits" (their sniffers seemed to be okay), but upon examination, one was found to be arthritic, and one showed every evidence of depression (and it happens even in dogs) for unknown reasons.

Of the two that did have problems with their sense of smell, the beagle showed "below average" readings on the SMETT test. It had suffered rhinitis about two months earlier. About nine months later, the owner reported that the dog was still having problems. The other, one of the field-trial pointers, also showed an abnormal sense of smell and may have had distemper at some point. According to the owner, the dog never was able to perform adequately in the field.

Diseases Identified

According to Myers, there are several diseases that can alter a dog's sense of smell: Parainfluenza (a kennel-cough virus), distemper, Cushing's syndrome, nasal tumors, head trauma, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, and diabetes mellitus have already been identified, and the list is expected to grow. Even the estrus cycle in females may possibly alter the sense of smell temporarily.

What the Kit Contains

The kit contains five, numbered tubes of a "pure" aromatic, graduated from low to increasingly high concentrations. The substance stimulates the dog's reactions to odors to measure the dog's sense of smell against a known standard. That is one that Myers has carefully worked out in the laboratory. The test must be conducted on one dog at a time, and can be administered by the owner or by a veterinarian.

The original article contained a step-by-step description of the testing process. The site editor has condensed it here for space reasons. Mr. Rafe's original text resumes with the sub-heading "A Real Value."

Testing accuracy depends on blindfolding the dog, laying it on a clean, relatively odor-free surface such as a table, and making sure the dog is relaxed before testing begins. The tester then brings each of five vials close to the dog's nose and observes its reactions. The first tube merely ensures that the test is being properly administered. The tester then exposes the dog to the remaining four vials, one at a time. Each tubes contains a different level of the chemical, The number of tubes to which the dog responds by sniffing, perking of the ears and wagging its tail determines his "scent ability."

A Real Value

Dr. Myers' test kit can tell clearly whether there is anything wrong with a dog's "smellability." And to a hunter who counts on his dogs to find birds, and who cares about his dog's health, that's worth the under $20 this kit sells for.

Now that sense of smell can be tested for, clubs may want to hold testing clinics for their members, breeders will want to test their stock, and puppy buyers will want to test those pups when they are narrowing down their selection. Quantity discounts may be available. For more information, contact Dr. Lawrence Myers, Myers, Brown-Myers, Inc., 674 Meadowbrook Drive, Auburn, AL, 36830.

Steve Rafe -- founder of Starfire -- has trained, hunted and competed bird dogs -- and has helped owners train their dogs -- for nearly 20 years. He also studied psychology and sociology for six years at the academic level. His book, Training Your Dog for BIRDWORK, was nominated as 1988 Training Book of the Year by the Dog Writers Association of America. Professionals and owners say his cure systems for dogs that fear gunfire, thunder or fireworks are the most effective available. His training techniques have been reported numerous times in Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. Steve is the dogs editor/columnist for Quail Unlimited (since 1989), Grouse Point Almanac, and Guns & Gear (B.A.S.S). He is also the author of Your New Baby and Bowser and numerous manuals and pamphlets on training and behavior. For a copy of his free, on-line products catalog, E-mail him at: or visit his website at

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