How Far Can A German Shepherd Smell

The German Shepherd is one of America’s most loved dog breeds, and for good reason! They are very intelligent, easily trainable and a faithful, devoted companion. Their courage is only matched by their affectionate nature, friendly disposition and acute sense of smell. Right now, you may be wondering to yourself, ‘how far can a German Shepherd smell?’

How far can a German shepherd smell? German Shepherds have 225 million scent receptors. This makes them as one of the best breeds overall for their sense of smell, being able to detect scents over a mile away on land, up to 40 feet underground and in 80 feet of water! Their sense of smell tie with beagles are second only to bloodhounds, which have 300 million scent receptors!

Now that you know German Shepherds have an amazing sense of smell, let’s explore this idea further. We will look at how far away this breed can pick-up a scent and how long it takes. We will also explore the genetic make-up of this dog, which allows it to have such a keen sense of smell. We will compare the German Shepherd’s sense of smell to human beings and look at what applications have been developed as a result of this dog’s amazing scent abilities.

So, if you’re ready to learn all you need to know about German shepherds and their incredible sense of smell, then let’s get started!

How Far Can a German Shepherd Pick Up a Scent?

It is believed that dogs can pick-up scents that are diluted one to two parts per trillion! This allows them to detect things that are buried up to 40 feet underground.

Some dogs can even detect cancer cells in people!

The German Shepherd can follow trails that are a 1 week old or pick-up the scent of a person who has drowned in over 80 feet of water! This sense of smell is so keen that they can identify a single grain of sugar among a thousand grains of salt!

Compared to human beings, a dog’s sense of smell is far superior! A German Shepherd’s sense of smell, for example, is almost 100,000 times better than that of a human’s! While we possess about 6 million scent receptors, a German Shepherd has approximately 225 million scent receptors! The part of the brain which processes scents is almost 40% larger in a German Shepherd than in a human.

Which Is The Strongest Sense For A German Shepherd?

Perhaps you’ve wondered about your pet’s senses and which is the strongest of the 5; smell; touch; hearing; taste and sight?

The sense of smell is by far a dog’s (especially a German Shepherd’s) best and most dominate sense.

Dogs have more than 20 times the scent receptors in their noses as humans do. This is why a person can gently touch a tree trunk and 2 weeks later, a German Shepherd will be able to pick-up the scent!

With regard to the remaining 4 senses, hearing is the second-best sense, followed by taste, touch, and sight.

The German Shepherd’s incredible sense of smell has made for some of the best bonds between working-class human beings and their canine companions. With the help of these canines, we have located many things (good and bad) through their master sense of smell.

How Come a German Shepherd Can Smell So Well?

While breathing and smelling are essentially the same for human beings, a dog’s nose is designed to perform both tasks separately.

Dogs have a fold of tissue inside their noses which separates air used for inhaling from air used for smelling.

When a dog breathes, a portion of the air is directed toward a bony network known as turbinates. These are dedicated to olfaction while the rest of the air is then diverted to the lungs. 

Dogs will take deep, long breaths for breathing and use short, sniffing inhalations when smelling something. When a dog exhales, air is pushed out of the slits in the sides of the nose, thus creating an airflow that draws new smells inward. 

Dogs have a part that humans don’t called the Jacobson’s organ. It’s located near the bottom of the dog’s nasal passage and allows the animal to detect pheromones or chemical cues. These are present in all animal species and allow them to relay messages to one another, such as mating readiness. The Jacobson’s organ also helps dogs to recognize the scents of others in their pack.

If a dog is trying to get more scent to its Jacobson’s organ, it may pull back its upper lip and lift its head up. This is known as the ‘flehmen’ reaction. It further enhances a dog’s sense of smell and is quite prominent in the German Shepherd breed.

How far can a german shepherd smell

How Good Is a German Shepherd’s Smell?

A dog’s nose essentially works the same way our human eyes, ears and mouth do.

Equipped with 225 million scent receptors, a German Shepherd, for example, can sniff out anything from bed bugs to cancer.

It is even believed that they can determine what time of day it is by tracking the rise and fall of temperature!

It is this same keen sense of smell that can also track a human scent carried by the wind.

This exceptional sense of smell is believed to be an evolutionary tactic that has allowed for the survival of the canine species throughout history.

Essentially, German Shepherds rely on their sense of smell to determine whether a setting is safe or not. Once a dog has processed a scent, it is stored permanently in the brain and remembered for the rest of its life!

Compared to other dogs, German Shepherds rank fourth overall by the AKC (American Kennel Club) for the best sense of smell, just behind Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds and Beagles. Check out the video below at 3:37 in to find out more about the German Shepherd’s acute sense of smell compared to other dogs.
Top 10 dog breeds with the best sense of smell

While these statistics can vary, one thing we know for sure is that German Shepherds are noted for their incredible ability to ‘air-scent’ – rather than keeping their noses on the ground, they lift their heads high to catch human scents carried by the wind.

Why Is A Good Sense Of Smell Important For German Shepherds?

A good sense of smell is not only important for dogs but for their human companions as well.

German Shepherds, in particular, have an incredible homing instinct that allows them to detect the scent of their owners up to 2 miles away. If the wind is right, German Shepherds can find their homes at distances of 10 miles or more! This is great news for those who like to spend time outdoors with their four-legged friends!

Why Are German Shepherds So Popular?

German shepherds are very popular in America today for a number of reasons. These include the following:

  • Highly intelligent
  • Very obedient
  • Extremely confident
  • Eager and alert
  • Easily trainable – guide and assistance for the handicapped; police force; military service; cattle herding; search and rescue missions; drug detection, diabetes, cancer, and seizure detection
  • Faithful companions
  • Keen sense of smell
  • Tolerant of cold weather conditions
  • Affectionate with family members, especially children
  • Friendly disposition.
german shepherd sense of smell
German Shepherds make great companions in the outdoors

German Shepherds consistently land on the AKC’s (American Kennel Club) annual list of most popular dog breeds. Their loyalty, courage, intelligence, ability to learn and willingness to protect their owners are unmatched by most other breeds.

How many miles can a German Shepherd smell? Their keen sense of smell can pick-up a smell on land up to a 1 mile away for strangers and 2 miles away for their owners or handlers, making them the ideal ‘tracking’ dog.

Why Do German Shepherds Make Good Police Dogs?

Apart from other canines, German Shepherds make great police dogs.

They are the all-time ACE (Awards for Canine Excellence) winning breed with 13 awards and countless recognitions for both service and bravery.

how good is a german shepherds sense of smell
A German Shepherd’s great sense of smell makes them perfect Police Dogs, especially for tracking.

They form a quick bond with their owners or handlers and are very obedient. They also have a level temperament and calm disposition that allows them to excel in high-risk, tense and even dangerous situations. 

Another reason why these dogs make great police dogs is because there is almost nothing that can throw off the scent of a tracking German Shepherd. Pepper, for example, may pose a minor distraction, however, it takes only minutes for the dog to pick up the trail again. Weather conditions, such as wind and rain may slow down a tracking dog, but only temporarily. This is good news for German Shepherd owners but bad news for criminals on the run!

What Other Dogs Have a Great Sense of Smell?

Find out by reading this article.


In conclusion, there is no mistaking the German Shepherd! With its confident, clever and courageous personality, it is the second most popular dog breed in the United States. Not only that, its sense of smell is exceptional. How far can a German Shepherd smell? With 225 million scent receptors at its disposal, it is ranked one of the top breeds overall. How good can a German Shepherd smell? It can detect scents over a mile away on land, up to 40 feet underground and in 80 feet of water! They truly are an amazing canine, to say the very least!

I dedicate this article in memory of my German Shepherd, Beau, seen below with her best friend, Red.

Interested more in the German Shepherd dog breed? Check out this article about this dog’s ability to swim.

Mad About GSD’s? So Are We!

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Michelle loves enjoying the outdoors with her dogs. She grew in a big house near the beach with German Shepherds. Nowadays, Michelle has down-sized her dogs to poodles, proving small dogs can enjoy the outdoors too! Her dogs enjoy playing fetch, swimming, and long walks. Michelle and her dogs enjoy escaping the city limits to hike, camp, and swim.

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