The Bookworm

“Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell” by Alexandra Horowitz, (Scribner), 336 pages, $27

Courtesy photo

Your walk around the block took longer this morning.

Something happened overnight, and your dog’s nose was on overload. He made you stop here, linger there, pause here, what was he sniffing? Surely, they were things you didn’t want to know about

In “Being a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz, she says she loves to stare into the faces of her dogs.

It’s a kind of bonding when their eyes meet hers, she says, but eyes are not the only way a dog “sees.” Much of what a dog knows filters through the little black button at the end of his snout.

It’s common knowledge that a dog’s nose catches scents better than does a measly human schnoz. Your dog can smell a storm coming from miles away. Properly trained, he can detect bugs, drugs, explosives, dead bodies, missing people and diseases.

Your dog knows how you feel just by how you smell; he knows where you’ve been and what you ate while you were there. And for him, the walk you had this morning was different from the one you had yesterday — even if you followed the exact same route.

So what are we missing?

Horowitz wondered, too, so she started sniffing high (where smells invisibly waft like clouds) and low (where scents tend to settle). She learned that all humans once knew how to use smell to find their way home, detect disease and identify friends and that it’s still possible to use full snoot capacity.

Horowitz volunteered to identify smells, to see how well she’d do. She talked with perfume and wine experts, visited training centers that teach puppies to find things that are hidden and possibly dangerous, and she learned how much we miss when we aren’t heeding the air we breathe.

And the part that really stinks? Researchers believe our pet dogs are losing their excellent “sniffability” just as we once did, according to Horowitz.

For sure, Horowitz goes farther than most authors would, to suss out what we’re missing by not being dogs. Her experiments spark both imagination and nose-wrinkling disgust. Definitely, she makes a reader envy the pooch’s proboscis that finds, identifies and savors scents that, sadly, we’ll never notice.

But can we teach ourselves to at least get up to snuff with our sniffler? Maybe. Reading about the lengths to which Horowitz goes to find out is funny and icky-truthful. That, plus its wealth of information, makes this book a delight for dog lovers and anyone who enjoys the smell of breakfast, crayons, rich earth, fresh-baked cookies, and, yes, even dogs.

Behold your pup’s little black nose. Admire the leathery scales, the wet softness, the curve of it — and then read on for a full appreciation.

“Being a Dog” is one great book to sniff out.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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