If you’ve been following along you might remember that I adopted a puppy in December, after fostering him and his two siblings for 5 weeks after their mother was killed by a car. Well Schroeder, the puppy, is now just about 7 months old. A lot has changed in that time, including that he no longer sleeps in his crate, an adjustment that has taken some time getting used to because he growls and then barks at every unfamiliar sound in the night–though this has gotten better as he is learning we are not fans of this.
…and you remember I said I lived in the woods, right? Well all kinds of animals are out and about when we are trying to sleep. There’s no telling how many raccoons, opossums, fox, coyotes, owls, bats, bears, deer, skunks, and other animals pass by the house in the dead of night.
Last night Schroeder woke us up at 3:30am, and it was pretty obvious from his loud and insistent bark that this was more than a mouse scurrying through the underbrush. We thanked him for alerting us, then hushed him and listened quietly, hearing an odd sound that was hard to identify.
Now fully awake, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen in the dark to turn on the spotlight. And waited a few minutes. At first there was nothing, but then, very quietly despite his GIANT size, a lone black bear came around the bend of the deck and strolled out into the backyard, disappearing into the woods.
When I checked this morning, all 3 of our hanging hummingbird feeders were empty, though interestingly, still hanging perfectly. This bear has learned that 1. sugar water is good, 2.that we have sugar water and 3.that he can get it without breaking or knocking the feeders to the ground. I imagine him standing on his hind legs, using his front feet to tip the feeder, drinking from the feeder like a person would drink a beer! (We will bring the hummingbird feeders in for a few nights after this in case he is still in the area and hoping for more sweetness)
We learned that our dog has AMAZING senses, as do all dogs. He can be asleep in his bed on the floor at the foot of our bed, the windows closed, and yet he is aware of a bear outside the house. His bark telling us a bear is present is much different than other animals that pass by. How does he do it?
From my research on the senses of dogs it seems the answer is SMELL.
Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, so much more acute than ours that it is hard for us to fathom. They have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses–to our 6 million. According to a page about dogs on Nova’s website, “Dogs’ sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it’s 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. “Let’s suppose they’re just 10,000 times better,” says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”
…”Put another way, dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. What does that mean in terms we might understand? Well, in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.” (Click HERE to read more of that article from Nova or HERE to read 10 things you may not know about bears.)
Amazing right? If the senses of dogs is that amazing, imagine what it must be like in other animals–like fox, coyote, bears etc. Knowing that, it seems amazing that we ever get to see them in the wild! And fully illustrates why every time I get a glimpse, however brief, of a wild animal in its natural habitat, I feel lucky. Do you? What animal encounters have you had lately?