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The Smell of a Dog

 

We were in Queens one day, visiting my cousin, and she suggested a walk in the park. We must have gone to the wrong side of the park, though, because the only options we found were a playground, where dogs were not allowed, and a horse trail, marked by huge piles of horse poop in case we missed the sign.

Horses!

Horses!

We walked down the path and back, dodging horses and as many piles of poop as we could, and then we did our best to wipe the soles of our shoes before returning to the car. But no one told Cricket to do the same, so when she, inevitably, climbed up my neck and stretched out behind my head, she left horse poop aroma on my hair, on my coat, on the headrest, and on the seat belt.

"Um, Cricket, what's that smell?"

“Um, Cricket, what’s that smell?”

It was the seat belt that became a problem.

Even after putting everything I had been wearing into the laundry, and scrubbing the seat belt and seat and head rest with different cleansers, the smell refused to go away.

I don’t know if I am especially sensitive to smell, or if horse poop is especially offensive, but I had to hold the seat belt away from my body, with a paper towel, just to sit in the car for a ten minute ride. It was either that or not use the seat belt at all and tolerate the constant beeping of the seat belt alarm.

I was enraged and impatient. I felt like I was being punished by God, for something.

Mom couldn’t smell it. I don’t think this is simply a factor of aging – it’s always been this way. Smells bother me more than they bother her.

Mom thinks that my sensitivity to smell might be related to my other neurological problems, and since nothing has been diagnosed yet, despite too many tests, anything seems possible. But I think I’ve always been sensitive like this. I knew people by their smells even as a kid, and I was naïve enough to think it was okay to tell them that. No one wants to know that they smell, by the way, especially if they smell like blue cheese, but even if they smell like cookies. It’s like telling someone that you recognize them by the bumpy red rash on their face, when they were hoping to God that no one would notice, or at least that no one would ever mention it.

Smell is one of the most direct routes to memory, because of the way the brain is wired. One sniff of mildew can send me back to my grandparents’ house in Chappaqua, which had its own pond within feet of the garage. Turpentine is a memory slide back to my father’s Industrial Arts classroom, and the communal sink where we scrubbed ink and paint from our hands. Newsprint always gives off the faint smell of puppy diarrhea to me, because we used newspaper to fill the whelping box when we had a litter of puppies when I was a kid.

Puppies + Newspaper!

Puppies + Newspaper

When we finally took the car in to have the interior professionally cleaned, because of the horse poop, and the lingering smell of dog vomit in the back seat from an earlier trip, I felt like a weight had been lifted.

Mom thinks it was too expensive, I think it was worth ten times what we paid.

Not all dog related smells have the same extreme effect on me, though. Cricket smells of snot, and it’s not a totally unpleasant smell. Within hours after a trip to the groomer, the white hair under her eyes starts to turn brownish and then black with tears. I have plenty of occasions to smell Cricket’s face up close, because she likes to climb on me and stare into my eyes to compel scratches. I get a close up view, and sniff, of the salty, gummy, black goop that she does not want removed by human hands, or wash cloths, or scissors. It should be an offensive smell, but instead it’s a cozy, Cricket-y smell.

Cricket getting clean against her will.

Cricket getting clean against her will.

Butterfly has a whole chorus of smells: there’s some pretty bad breath from her not-so-good teeth; there’s the stale chicken smell that starts to waft from the top of her head once the shampoo smell dissipates; there’s the corn chip smell of her feet; and the generally dogly smell she develops as she runs and sweats and sniffs around the back yard. It’s amazing the smells I can get used to, and even look forward to, when they mean my puppies are nearby. I’ve realized that when a smell is attached to someone I love, it is easier to bear. Though I do have to be careful not to breathe in too deep.

"I smell?"

“I smell?”

When we’ve been away too long (say, more than an hour) the smell at the front door is of doggy drool, and it wafts up at me as soon as I open the door. The smell is the accumulation of hours of impatient waiting by the door; a cloud of moist unhappiness and dread. And yet, it makes me feel loved, and surrounded by dog, as if their leftover breath is embracing me as they jump and squeal to welcome me home.

 

The heavy breathing puppies at the door.

The heavy breathing puppies at the door.

The girls greet Mom with joy!

The girls greet Grandma!

 

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

98 responses »

  1. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    I love the horsey smells! LOL

    Reply
  2. I love the smell of my (generally clean) dogs. It comforts me when I breath it in!

    Reply
  3. Doggy smell is mostly wonderful. In high school on vacations I had a job mucking out stalls at a nearby stable. My mom made me leave my shoes and most of my clothes at the back door.

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  4. Lol. Having a strong sense of smell does have an advantage and disadvantage, I do have that too, but not related to anything neurological. Back then, I thought I have a Hyperosmia but my extreme smelling sensitivity (as embarrassing as this sounds,) is rather only for spiritual entities.

    Reply
  5. This is very interesting. I love the smell of my greyhound, which is totally unlike other dog smells.
    When I have a bad migraine I become more sensitive to smells that others can’t detect.
    Your dogs are so cute.

    Reply
  6. Omg. Yes! Everyone has their own smell and it’s a big part of how I remember them. I can remember the ‘smells’ of childhood friends better than their faces in some cases. When it comes to my dog, my mum will start complaining that he needs a wash, that his bed needs a wash etc, and I’m there like ‘yeah it’s getting stronger, but it’s Max so I don’t mind’

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  7. I love the smell of my dogs, both so different. And I remember that I identified a particular smell as being associated with each of my children, too. One was almond, one dill, one vanilla.
    I share your super sensitive nose!

    Reply
  8. Hah classic dog adventure story, love it. No wonder you love dogs because your practically one of them with your keen sense of smell. Your root chakra is related to the sense of smell, maybe play with incense when you meditate and see where it takes you.

    Reply
  9. I have a very keen sense of smell and as I read about your seat belt I was really having a hard time as it was conjuring up the smell for me. My husband was sitting across the table and said why are you crinkling your nose and making that face? I do like when a smell brings back a happy memory or reminds me of a person

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  10. Hi Rachel and anyone else intrigued by the smell thing. I’d like to offer an explanation of the smell thing. We have 5 senses and it is not unusual for people to be stronger in one sense than another. Some people have a very finely tuned sense of smell, which could go with taste. I’m not sure. I read wine reviews and I’m dumbfounded. How did you get that taste out of that. It’s all just wine to me. the same applies to all other senses. Some people are very sensitive to touch and have to cut tags out of clothes etc I can hear even sound my next door neighbour makes and can hear him snoring at times through two exterior walls and my husband hears nothing. Thinks I’m crazy.
    When the sensory response becomes so intense that in causes stress etc, it is called Sensory Processing Disorder. People who are on the asberger’s and autism spectrum tend to experience this and you will see kids with headphones on to cope with loud noises.
    It is a fasciniating area to explore, particularly in terms of character development with writing. There are people who are sensory seeking who for example love hugging and touching and they bounce off the walls where as there are those on the opposite scale who don’t like people touching them repel loud noises, bright lights. Once I read about this, so many things made sense.
    When you get a group of kids together, there are inevitably opposites who get put together and being young and their social skills are raw, it’s not pretty. xx Rowena

    Reply
  11. I can really relate to this post. I love the smell of my dogs, even when they stink. I suspect that it is because I love them so much.

    Reply
  12. eeww – dog smells – i’m pretty sensitive to certain smells, too; probably most people are. Cat, dog, and hog poop absolutely set me off – sheep, horse, and cattle poop not so bad, but all our animals only graze grass and are on pasture, so none is concentrated. Big difference in the smell between grainfed and grassfed animals. Might have been what was bad with the horse manure smell you encountered- mostly like grain fed. i stay completely away from hogs and since i have a new Aussie Shepherd pup to train for mustering, i’m tolerating the outdoor dog smell, but wash my hands as soon as i get inside. Love cats, though i’ve recently found out i’m allergic to them! Doesn’t hurt to have sensitive olfactory nerves – could save your life sometime!

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  13. I don’t mind horsey smells to me they are earthy..but when my fibro flares u smells and sounds and lights become super sensitive! hugs Fozziemum xxx

    Reply
  14. I love that I am not the only one who notices “corn chip feet” lol. Nala can have some vicious breath especially if she plays a lot and then decides to take a long nap and come see me before drinking some water. Great post!

    Reply
  15. My cat likes to smell my breath to see what I have been eating, and my hair: I have only recently (in 6.5 years) found a shampoo he approves of.

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    • Cricket loves my moisturizer. I wish she wouldn’t love it quite so much, then I could keep a bit of it on my face.

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      • Maggie always licks the lotion from my face and hands. (sigh) I will probably wrinkle in funny stripes because of it. May I recommend the product, “Angels’ Eyes” for the tear stains? It is a naturally-deprived, veterinarian-approved powder that you mix with the dogs’ food. It keeps Maggie’s face clean, and Dr. Craig said it is just fine for her (she’s very sensitive). It’s available at Amazon.

  16. I think smell is one of our most pleasurable and useful senses. My maternal grandmother had none. That was sometimes unfortunate

    Reply
  17. we love walking, yet horse poop would be a snack heaven we would have left momwithoutpaws would not let us.

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  18. I know what you mean about dog smells. Gross and comforting at the same time…sometimes just gross.

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  19. That is fascinating. No wonder you understand dogs so well, sharing a bit more of their way to experience the world than most other people do. I love the smell of dogs, even wet dogs, and I can smell their cheesy feet. The smell of an old dog brings up some good childhood memories. Isn’t the brain an amazing thing? I only now begin to learn how much our perception is influenced by the way our brain is processing the stimuli, and not so much by the organs themselves. I don’t envy you though, having to endure all our stinks that we so carefully try to wash away and mask.

    Reply
  20. I love the smell of Millie and Pearl, especially their ears and paws – they always smell of biscuits (cookies) to me. The only time I don’t enjoy their smell is when they’ve rolled in poop. Even after I’ve washed them, the smell lingers for days.

    Reply
  21. My husband and I have very different senses of smell and taste and we’re always surprised at how differently we notice things.

    I’m glad the detailer got the odor out of your car!

    Nancy

    Reply
  22. Maggie has her own smell too, not always pleasant either!
    When we used to walk in the woods we were forever avoiding more dog poo than horse. The latter does stink though, and once you get it stuck in the treads of your shoes, it’s hell to get rid of. Fabrics are also a nightmare to clean, so I’m not surprised you ended up having to have a professional job.

    Reply
  23. As far as I’m concerned, you were lucky. Cow poop is a LOT worse than horse poop.

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  24. As bath time becomes more imperative, Max smells like a freshly opened bag of Fritos.

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  25. I hear you, I too am terribly sensitive to smells

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  26. ‘I smell’: what a sweet picture!

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  27. To refer to corn chips as what a dogs paws smell like sums it up beautifully! Love that smell 🙂

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  28. Great post, Rachel! It’s funny how a particular smell can send you on a trip to the past. I always think of my Granny when I smell oranges. I’d sit in her lap and we’d peel an orange while she watched her “stories”. 🙂

    Living on a farm is sometimes an olfactory overload, so here are a couple of tips that have helped me in the past. Use shaving cream as a cleaner for smelly fabrics or pets (being careful of course not to get any in their eyes). It works better than anything I’ve ever found. If the smell seems to just get in your nose and stay there, dab a little perfume, essential oil or lotion just under your nose. Skritches behind the ears to the girls!

    Reply
  29. It’s amazing the connections we make (without fully realizing, sometimes, I think) through our olfactory sense. Personally I believe horse riders should be made to go out carrying a sack and a shovel. After all, we have to use poop bags.

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  30. Love the puppy bath picture! I, too, have an extraordinary sense of smell. Wet dog, for instance, makes me crazy. But puppy breath I could smell all day!

    Reply
  31. If you played trivia crack, you would be able to answer one of their favorite questions about which sense evokes the most memories…and the answer is smell, of course….there are, so far, no questions about whether the smell of horse poop is the most difficult smell to remove from dogs’ paws. 🙂

    Reply
  32. We live on a ranch so rolling in the poop becomes almost too common…right behind eating the stuff…for the doggies, not me. h aha
    Another great blog! The picture of poor little Cricket getting a bath cracked me up.

    Reply
  33. I love the evocativeness in this post – smell does bring back memories so easily!

    Choppy currently smells…not so nice. And she had a bath this morning at the kennel, before I picked her up a little bit ago. I don’t think I want to know what the smell is.

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  34. I can smell it. 😉 no really!

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  35. You are so funny, but I totally understand. My Mom had a hypersensitive sense of smell, and some smells made her physically ill. Me, on the other hand, being a groom for dressage horses as my trade I LOVE the smell of horse manure- do you want to trade cars? Mine just smells of Shih tzu and Old Man, oh and cheeseburgers.( No, I wouldn’t trade either..).

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  36. LOL!! I have a similar situation… every time after my dog has been in the car, my hubby wants to wash it, inside out (I am referring to the car).

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  37. Wow what a day gave you plenty more chores, oh well the little fur babies are happy.
    Love the puppies good childhood memories.

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  38. I smell a smell. A smelly smell. BOL.

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  39. I too am plagued with an extra sensitive nose, although not as keen as yours. It is amazing how a scent can pull us into an instant memory isn’t it? And strangely (to me anyway) the smells of my own home and person aren’t apparent to me (unless it’s b.o. or something really strong like that). I suppose we grow used to the scents of our own home and pets.

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  40. Too funny, because I don’t find horse poop all that bad… well, unless the horse has been getting too much protein, then it smells like rotting meat. Ok, too much detail from the horse lover …. I’ll back away quietly now ….

    Oddly enough, Miss Beulah has been smelling a bit like parmesan lately. I wonder what she rolled in this time!

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  41. My dog is obsessed with rolling in fox poop….I can see the look on her face change, then her head goes down and its like its in slow motion with me shouting “Noooooo….” She tried a cow pat once but being a Jack practically disappeared and never did it again lol

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  42. When I was writing Smelly Cat, I thought of your post because when it comes to smells, I was not expecting tear inducing smelly dog lol. Cricket and Butterfly suit their personal odors. Marshall our Black Lab smelled like popcorn and he never had a bath, his coat was so shiny and glossy without having been washed, Rex smelled like really good and so does Jack. Lulu hopefully will smell better in the coming days. Believe or not I have a very poor sense of smell so I feel bad for the others. lol

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  43. I loved – and laughed through – this blog!! Has anyone ever mentioned the possibility that you may have Synesthesia? (Of course no one would want horse poo on their face, but it was the other sensory things that has me wondering. I have a page on my experience w/ Synesthesia at: http://debbieomusic.com/synesthesiachromesthesia-the-colors-of-my-life/ (if you’re interested)! Keep up the great stories about you & your furry friends!

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  44. That poop would have been way too close to me…glad you made the ride okay and now have the smell removed from your car sweet Rachel. I love to smell Chancy too except for the times he runs and gets too warm then his feet has a smell like I have never smelled before and it is shooo-weeee. lol I tell him he has stinky feet when that happens. The smell goes away quickly though and that is a good thing. Since sweet Cricket was getting clean against her will I guess that poop smell was not bothering her. 🙂 This was a very interesting post. Hugs

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  45. Happy Valentine’s Day !With love Maxima

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  46. We used to live by the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia and always walked Zush without a leash.She listened and stayed close..until on Christmas afternoon, when we were walking and talking, two hours away from an in-depth visit with my mother in law. Zush ran back to us, I said good girl, reached down to scratch her neck, only to find out that she rolled in deer poop….we went through a ton of baby wipes that afternoon…..lol

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  47. Great writing! I’m happy to have found this blog. Seeing photos of my dog makes me feel envy! They’re so adorable!

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  48. Puppy breath!!! My favorite. My family used to raise Norwegian Elkhounds–nothing cuter, and the smell… Thanks for the memories.

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  49. What a lovely post! I adore the smell of puppies. I also like the smell after a match has been extinguished or a firework extinguished. We used to rear pigs and that is a smell you cannot get rid of! Also raw green tripe. My husband used to go to the pub for a beer and as he lifted his glass he either smelled pigs or tripe on his fingers. The smells certainly do linger longer. Best Wishes, Barbara and thanks for liking my post. http://www.dogblog.xyz

    Reply
  50. Aww! Cricket is adorable! She looks like my parent’s dog (Mickey’s best bud) Banner. Glad you got the poop smell out of the car. I can imagine that would be a nightmare. Mickey stepped in dog poop at the dog park on day and then jumped up on me. Of course I didn’t have anything to clean myself off with! Ever since that day, we always take baby wipes and hand sanitizer with us to the park!

    Reply

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