An investigation on the olfactory capabilities of domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)

Elodie Ferrando, Christoph D. Dahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The extraordinary olfactory capabilities in detection and rescue dogs are well-known. However, the olfactory performance varies by breed and search environment (Jezierski et al. in Forensic Sci Int 237:112–118, 2014), as well as by the quantity of training (Horowitz et al. in Learn Motivation 44(4):207–217, 2013). While detection of an olfactory cue inherently demands a judgment regarding the presence or absence of a cue at a given location, olfactory discrimination requires an assessment of quantity, a task demanding more attention and, hence, decreasing reliability as an informational source (Horowitz et al. 2013). This study aims at gaining more clarity on detection and discrimination of olfactory cues in untrained dogs and in a variety of dog breeds. Using a two-alternative forced choice (2AFC) paradigm, we assessed olfactory detection scores by presenting a varied quantity of food reward under one or the other hidden cup, and discrimination scores by presenting two varied quantities of food reward under both hidden cups. We found relatively reliable detection performances across all breeds and limited discrimination abilities, modulated by breed. We discuss our findings in relation to the cognitive demands imposed by the tasks and the cephalic index of the dog breeds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1567-1577
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number6
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Canis lupus familiaris
  • Detection
  • Discrimination
  • Dog
  • Olfaction
  • Quantity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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