A dog’s nose

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To a dog [a well-sprayed lamp-post] is The Times hot off the presses; latest news, social column, gossip….We smell in black and white, while a dog smells in eternal rainbows of subtle and delicate nuances. (Simon Barnes – Bird watching with your eyes closed)

 

For the first few months of our dog’s life with us, ‘up’ didn’t exist.  He lived his life at nose level and below.  Sometimes, he was puzzled at the noises he heard, such as the gulls above us, because he hadn’t yet realised there was another dimension to the world.  But already, there were things he knew that I could never know.

SAMSUNG CSCWhen I walk with my dog, we’re each having the same experience in a different way.  In sensory terms, I can only ever experience the walk in the present moment.  Though I bring to it memories, local knowledge and history, that walk will always be what is happening now.  I can see events as they unfold; I can interpret noises; I can smell strong odours; but experiencing that present moment is all that is available to me.

SAMSUNG CSCMy dog knows things I can’t know.  He knows which dogs and people have been here before us.  He knows which way they walked.  He knows if they were friends or strangers.  A dog’s need to sniff has been likened to reading the daily newspaper.  When my dog sniffs a tree or a patch of ground and feels the need to mark it, that’s because of something he’s read in the newspaper.  When he picks up a scent and follows it, that’s because he can ‘see’ a trail that is invisible to me.

SAMSUNG CSCHis nose can identify if a dog is male or female, what it has eaten, if it is in season and a myriad other factors.  Recent research has shown that dogs are able to smell disease.  Their nostrils work independently so that they can tell which direction a scent is coming from.  And my dog is always sniffing.  His nose rarely stops twitching, whether he’s awake or asleep, whether he is sitting before an open window at home, or walking outside.  I may believe that nothing much is occurring, but to him, there are all sorts of things going on.

SAMSUNG CSCA writer’s brain is like a dog’s nose.  It’s our job to see in a different way.  We can use all of our senses to experience and describe a location.  But we also have to see the things that aren’t there.  We go beyond the limits of our senses.  We people the world with imaginary characters.  We imagine events we haven’t physically seen or experienced.    We build up the layers of place, people, events until they can be experienced in a rush of sensation.    As a dog’s nose is always ‘on’, so is a writer’s brain – always observing, always sifting ideas through the ‘nose’ of our creativity.  And, just like a dog, we will suddenly pick up a scent and we’ll be away, following the idea hungrily to see where it will lead us.SAMSUNG CSC

Dog scenting is usually seen as a way of asserting dominance, by marking territory, but it could also be viewed as a huge effort of co-operation.  Each dog is a canine reporter, contributing his smell, his story, his ‘news’ to the doggy newspaper, so that other dogs can make better sense of the world.  And in this way we, as writers, do the same.  We don’t usually write for status, but only to interpret the world in our own unique way, which will hopefully contribute to the world’s understanding of itself.

As a lesson for living, my dog’s nose reminds me that life is lived in the present moment and that is the best way to be content.  As a lesson for writing, it reminds me that there is so much more to imagine and ‘see’ than what is in front of me.

62 thoughts on “A dog’s nose

  1. Yes, it is incredible how animals see the world in a different way. I love it when my cats really want to have a good smell of something and they open their mouths to use the extra scent organ in there, looks really funny. 🙂

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  2. Dogs consistently amaze me with their skills. They use them often in children’s hospitals to help with therapies or simply just to entertain the children. Pets are such a great source of comfort. Sadly, we don’t have any. Husband’s too allergic. 😦

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  3. What a cute little thing! Great pics. ‘A writer’s brain is like a dog’s nose.’ Love this – so true. I never knew a dog could pick up all of that from their sense of smell – nature is amazing. Great post, Andrea.

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  4. Canine reporters contributing to the doggy newspaper, I like the analogy. I didn’t know their nostrils could work independently but I do know they can smell disease. I’ve recently read a story about a woman who thanks to her dog came to know about her developing breast cancer. The dog became very sad, apathetic and was constantly rubbing his nose against her breast. Finally and luckily she understood he might have been trying to convey a message and as such it saved her life.
    Such great teachers, our canine friends.

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  5. I do like the perspective that writing is a form of attuning ourselves to stimuli that have always been there in the background, but that we may have tuned out, whether due to choice or conditioning. I think the same thing is true of empathy, to some extent — our ability to sense what’s going on for each other is much stronger than we often give it credit for being.

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  6. The photos of your dog are so neat. He is simply adorable. I love dogs, too.
    And I love what you are writing about them and us as writers.
    I also appreciate to be reminded of our role as writers through this sentence:
    “We don’t usually write for status, but only to interpret the world in our own unique way, which will hopefully contribute to the world’s understanding of itself.”
    Thank you and I hope that your technical problems are solved.

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  7. Such a great post and a lovely introduction to your four-legged friend – he looks adorable! As always, great use of imagery and metaphors Andrea – and I can sympathise with your broadband problems: progress, eh?

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  8. A great analogy for writing this is Andrea, and taking the time to stop and sense what is right in front of us. Love the ‘canine reporter’! Sorry to hear about your broadband problems, hope you soon get them sorted out…

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  9. What a wonderful analogy you’ve drawn between dogs and writers! And to think how many haiku I’ve composed in my head while out exercising my dog — us both walking along interpreting the world and homing in on tiny details.

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  10. What a beautiful ode to your lovely border! My border is my first terrier and when I first got her I couldn’t believe how much of a sniffer she was – stopping at EVERY scent rather than walking ahead like my previous dogs.

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  11. Andrea, you continue to amaze me with the analogies and parallels you find for writing and the creative process! My childhood rat terrier had a keen nose, too, and also an uncanny sense of hearing. I’ll swear he could hear my mother’s car when she came home from work when it was still several blocks away. He would wake up or drop what he was doing and jump on the couch, eagerly looking to the right and wagging his behind in anticipation. I’d love to be able to experience the senses of other animals to “see” what the world is like from their perspectives.

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    • Thanks JM – yes, Border Terriers are ratters too (though ours won’t be getting up to that kind of thing!) so it’s no wonder he’s always sniffing the ground. Winston is usually on the window sill when we come home and we wonder if he’s been there all day or he’s there because he knows it’s home time!

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  12. Oh, Andrea, I love these picture, especially the first one and the last one. (There’s nothing sweeter than a sleeping dog–it’s like watching a sleeping baby–the first close-up is precious.)
    Our dog amazes us the way her senses out-perform all of ours. When we take her on hikes in the mountains, Maggie will pause, life her nose to the sky, and breathe. Twice she’s detected coyotes by scent. We didn’t even catch glimpses of them until much later and farther along on the trail.

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    • Thanks Marylin, yes I love that first photo with the dewdrops on his fur! They are so vulnerable when they sleep – and so unselfconscious, we can definitely learn many lessons from our dogs 🙂

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  13. Neat post, Andrea. I love to watch my dog when she’s scouting our yard. Our backyard abuts conservation land, so there is quite a lot of activity out there that interests her. Being a hunting dog, she puts all of her senses to work and finds creatures among the thickets which I can’t even see. In a lot of ways, this is what writers do: sniff out the interesting stuff. 😉

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  14. I love how you have connected how a dog knows the world with its nose with that of a writer. I nicknamed my dog, Juno, ‘Miss Marple’ because of how she kept her nose down gathering clues as to what was going on the neighborhood. But I always used to laugh in gratitude knowing that as a human, I did not have to smell that stuff! However, what she and my new dog Jess, have also taught me is that it is ok to stop and stare, to look at something and really take it in. I joke that Jess is nosy, because she will watch someone getting out of their car or watch them opening their front door. But she is taking in every detail until she has what she needs and goes on her way. Discreetly, of course, this a good learning tool for my writing as well.

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  16. Lovely post, Andrea. Did you see Chris Packham’s ‘Inside the Animal Mind’ a few months ago? There was a section on the canine sense of smell and they used visuals that presented the scent trail of a deer as, to a dog, a sort of ghost-deer passing through the trees. It was a great way of highlighting how a dog’s nose allows it to perceive things that we can’t.

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  17. Ha ha, some days my dog’s nose doesnt seem to leave the ground and I find myself chastising him for not walking quicker or paying more attention to the walk…of course, he’s paying more attention (in some ways) than I am and by making me slow down, I often find I get more out of the walk than I would on my usual speedy route march! Great, thougt provoking post.

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  18. Even though I’m officially “cat lady”, I’ve always loved dogs as well. I adore the connection you made between writers and dogs. I have never thought about that before, but that’s so neat! I was just at dinner with one of my best girlfriends last night, and as I was telling a story, she said: “I love the way you see things”. She, though not a writer, is super observant as well, so we can always get deep without any awkwardness, even when talking about the most “ordinary” things.

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    • I was cat lady Britt – we lived with five of them, the last was 19 when she died! I’m sure if I’d been blogging when we had the cats I would have started drawing feline analogies (!) but living with a dog is so new that those thoughts come naturally.

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