What smells? Gauging attention to olfaction in canine cognition research

  • Alexandra HorowitzEmail author
  • Becca Franks
Original Paper


One of the challenges of animal cognition research is overcoming anthropocentric sensory biases—in particular, favoring visual information and cues despite the dominance of other sensory cues in many nonhuman research subjects. As such, it is particularly important for animal cognition researchers to explicitly mention steps taken to control for and attend to the sensory world of their study species. Dogs are well known for their reliance on olfaction, but the extent to which dog cognition and behavior research accounts for olfactory cues or incorporates olfactory controls is unknown. With this bibliographic study, we reviewed canine research published in the past 10 years (2008–2018) in 13 scientific journals and coded the 481 resulting papers for mentions of olfactory or odor cues or controls. Our findings indicate that despite widespread acceptance of the significance of olfaction to dogs, scientific methodology rarely takes olfactory information processing into account. Finally, we propose a simple rubric of recommended reporting of olfactory information in research contexts, with the aims to help attune researchers to the umwelt of their study subjects, and to enhance the methodological reproducibility of canine cognition research.


Domestic dog Cognition Olfaction Methodology Reproducibility 



We thank Madelyn Baker, Melissa Flores, and David Stoll for search assistance. Thank you to three reviewers who provided helpful feedback on our submission.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest.


The datasets generated during and analyzed in the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBarnard CollegeNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental StudiesNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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