Cathleen Schine, whose novel The New Yorkers was a perceptive window into the difference between a person and a-person-who-lives-with-a-dog, reviews INSIDE OF A DOG: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know for the New York Times:
Dogs are, says Horowitz, “creatures of the nose.” To help us grasp the magnitude of the difference between the human and the canine olfactory umwelts, she details not only the physical makeup of a dog nose (a beagle nose has 300 million receptor sites, for example, compared with a human being’s six million), but also the mechanics of the canine snout. People have to exhale before we can inhale new air. Dogs do not. They breath in, then their nostrils quiver and pull the air deeper into the nose as well as out through side slits. Specialized photography reveals that the breeze generated by dog exhalation helps to pull more new scent in. In this way, dogs not only hold more scent in at once than we can, but also continuously refresh what they smell, without interruption, the way humans can keep “shifting their gaze to get another look.”
Dogs do not just detect odors better than we can. This sniffing “gaze” also gives them a very different experience of the world than our visual one gives us. One of Horowitz’s most startling insights, for me, was how even a dog’s sense of time differs from ours. For dogs, “smell tells time,” she writes. “Perspective, scale and distance are, after a fashion, in olfaction — but olfaction is fleeting. . . . Odors are less strong over time, so strength indicates newness; weakness, age. The future is smelled on the breeze that brings air from the place you’re headed.” While we mainly look at the present, the dog’s “olfactory window” onto the present is wider than our visual window, “including not just the scene currently happening, but also a snatch of the just-happened and the up-ahead. The present has a shadow of the past and a ring of the future about it.”
When I got my first dog, specifically because I wanted a partner for AKC obedience training, my friends in science-fiction fandom wondered why I’d choose such a demanding and un-nerdly hobby. But the fascinating thing about dealing with dogs, for me, is that it’s as close as I’ll probably ever get to an ongoing, two-way, working communion with a non-human intelligence*. The fact that so much of the First Contact conversation is going to involve (non-verbal) dialogue like “Huh? LOLwhut?” or “Nope, don’t feel like doing that right now, get back to me later” or “Nag, nag, nag — why is this relationship never about MY needs? ! ?” is no doubt a salutary reminder about the fictitiousness of science fiction.
*(Cats are willing to deal with people, at least their personal people, but dogs have a much more human-like “need” to work out an explicit vocabulary with the animals they live with. In my experience, a cat can share a household for years with a person or even another cat without acknowledging the other’s existence; a dog living with a person or a cat who is “not a dog person” will never give up trying to make a connection, even after multiple attempts prove that any interactions are going to be unpleasant or painful.)