Many environmental factors can greatly affect the amount of scent held in the air or how far scent is moved through the air. Things like wind speed and direction, humidity levels, and even the air temperature all can drastically alter the dog’s ability to acquire the scent of an object.
Wind Speed and Direction
A dog basically has the ability to see the world through their nose. Imagine trying to look through blurry glasses; this is what it is like for a dog in some wind conditions. Some wind is important to help move scent molecules away from the game into the air for the dog to capture. However, if the wind is blowing too hard, the scent molecules are carried further away and can be dispersed before getting to the dog’s nose. With swirling wind gusts, changing direction and speed, scent is moved around in ways that is nearly impossible for the dog to see the correct scent picture of the nearby environment.
Air temperature is another factor that may affect scent ability. Hot air rises and cold air falls. This movement will carry scent molecules along with it. As the sun hits the ground or cover, it heats up the nearby air and with this air being hotter than the air above it, it will rise up. This upward motion will pull scent from the ground, lifting it up and making it easier for the dog to capture as it passes through the area. Cold air performs the opposite of hot air; colder air is denser and therefore heavier than warmer air, causing cold air to fall. With cold air falling and keeping close to the ground, this too keeps scent particles close to the ground. You may notice in cold temperatures, a dog might go on point very close to game. This is because the games’ scent stayed low and centered near them.
The higher the humidity, the more water vapor in the air. Water vapor acts as a scent carrier. Higher levels of humidity are best for scent hunting, unless it’s below freezing. When temperatures are below freezing, water vapor in the air begins to freeze. This freezing of water vapor works as a restriction to scent. As moisture evaporates, scent molecules are carried into the air with the water vapor, making conditions with early morning dew a great scent environment for hunting with dogs. High humidity levels in the air also help keep the dog’s noise more moist, which plays an important factor in effectiveness of the olfactory system.
Rain and Snow
A light rain or snow can convey scent more readily. Snow normally means the air temperature isn’t too low to affect the humidity as well. Hunting right after a light rain presents a great opportunity for scent conditions. The air will be humid, the barometric pressure builds, and scent will be lifting from the ground. Light rain might be good for scent, but a heavy rain or downpour isn’t. You might as well stop hunting, as scent will not be able to be carried in the air, also scent particles may be washed off the game instead of them being released into the air.
Best Scent Conditions
One of the best scent conditions is early morning with light dew or frost as the sun is rising with a slight breeze. As the sun hits the dew or frost, it will evaporate; lifting scent into the air, as well as the ground air temperature will rise, helping lift scent from the ground. The light breeze will help carry the scent to your dog and help your dog better determine the direction and distance to the game.
Worst Scent Conditions
The worse scent conditions are cold, windy days with snow or frozen ground. Equally bad is a scorching hot summer day with very low humidity.
Fun Fact: Did you know that poor dental hygiene and tooth infections can affect a dog’s scenting capacity? See our article, Importance of Canine Dental health, to learn more about maintaining proper canine dental hygiene.
Thank you for reading about the environmental factors that affect dog scenting abilities. If you have any questions on factors affecting your dog’s scenting abilities or suggestions for additional content, please leave a comment below.