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The Canine in Conversation
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photograph of a dog sniffing the crotch of a small child on a beach
figure 1  


sniff out. Recognize, detect, or deduce from the “smell” or as if by smelling; here the “odor” can be construed as any kind or form of data.

While most species are competent at interpreting olfactory data, including humans, dogs are among the most sophisticated.reference 1 Where humans rely most heavily on visual data to know the world, a dog's most acute sensory capacity is its sense of smell. Popular media may write articles about humans and pheromones,reference 2 but when it comes to gathering complex and subtle information, we are dullards in the world of scent. Anyone who has watched a beagle engage the world will have no doubt that this is a dog reference.

New York Times technology reviewer Warren Buckleitner describes a pocket-sized wireless messenger as being “designed to sniff out Wi-Fi hotspots…”reference 3 (Wi-Fi hotspots are geographical locations in which you can tap into someone else’s wireless system.) In this instance, it is the odor of connectivity that the device detects.

In her Washington Post advice column, Apartment Life, Sara Gebhardt suggests that one reader should “sniff out apartment buildings with lots of vacancies, and try to negotiate rents and privileges to a level where you are comfortable.”reference 4 Here the implication seems to be more than simply a matter of detection; it suggests that the reader engage in a more covert investigation prior to direct contact.

1. Budiansky, Stephen. 2001. The Truth About Dogs. New York: Penguin Books.

2. BBC News. 2002. Women Sniff out Ideal Mates. British Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed Jul 3 2004 from http:// 1/ hi/ health/ 1772789.stm

3. Buckleitner, Warren. 2007. New Option for Teenagers Passionate About Instant Messaging. New York Times, Oct 4. Accessed Jan 4 2008 from http:// 2007/ 10/ 04/ technology/ circuits/ 04zipit.html.


4. Gebhardt, Sara. 2007. The Quandary of the Couple's Closet; Your Landlord's Snow-Removal Duties. Washington Post, Dec 29, T15.

About the illustration: Dogs must be trained to not go straight to the true sources of information about the humans around them. Here we see a puppy learning about her friend. Courtesy of Maui Points of View.
see also: hot on the scent of; blood hound; rub one's nose in it
cf: throw off the scent of
Last updated: July 28, 2008
by Alec MacLeod 2001-2008  Dogmatic Technologies Oakland Creative Commons unless otherwise expressly stated, all original material of whatever nature created by Alec MacLeod and included in The Canine in Conversation and any related pages, is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Please read the Terms of Use Agreement by Alec MacLeod Dogmatic Technologies