Do Labradors smell?
If you are considering adding a Labrador Retriever dog to your family, you may be wondering just how much “Labrador smell” you are getting yourself into.
In this article, we delve into the topic of dogs and smells.
What causes dogs to smell?
Where does the Labrador fall on the doggy body odor spectrum?
And what you can do to reduce dog odor?
Let’s find out.
Do Labradors Smell? The Truth About Labrador Body Odor
The Labrador Retriever is one of the smellier breeds in the canine world.
This is partly because a Labrador’s coat is double layer, thick and water-repellant.
It can hold on to odors in a way that dogs with single layer coats typically won’t.
However, not all people find the odor of a smelly Labrador unpleasant.
In fact, some people quite like “Labrador smell.”
As we continue to explore the question of “do Labradors smell?”, it is also important to remember that there are different kinds of Labrador-smell.
Just like there are different kinds of people-smell.
And, if your friend who owns a Lab says, “my Labrador smells,” this may mean his Lab just rolled in something and smells awful.
Or, this may also mean his Lab has a unique signature scent that can be easily recognized as “Labrador smell.”
Biology’s Role for the Labrador Smell
Biologically speaking, every animal has a unique scent signature, called an “odor-type.”
This scent signature is what helps moms find their babies, adults pick mates and family members locate one another.
Just like all other mammals, each dog also has a unique scent signature.
This means that even though all Labradors smell to some extent, no two Labs will smell exactly alike.
In case this is making you curious about the role of scent in human/canine biology, you are not alone.
Biologists got quite curious too, and they designed a research study to try to answer this question.
The Science of Labrador Body Odor
In this study, dog owners were asked to sniff two flannel blankets—one that their own dog had slept in and one that a strange dog slept in.
A whopping 88.5 percent of dog owners correctly identified the scent of their own dog just by sniffing the blankets.
What the biologists learned from this is that both people and dogs use scent similarly to identify one another even when we may not be aware that we are doing this.
Your dog’s nose is so keen, she can pick your scent out of a whole crowd of people.
While your nose may not be quite so keen as your pup’s, you can still pick her scent out when given more than one scent signature to sniff.
Why a Labrador Smells
The sense of smell is so interesting to study.
The ability to smell and to tell one odor from another serves a very useful purpose—it can actually help to keep us alive.
For example, when we smell something we label as “bad,” we have a different reaction than when we smell something we label as “good.”
The bad-smelling odors can represent a survival threat (rotten food, predators, or a mate who is also your biological sibling).
While the good-smelling odors can represent a survival advantage (nourishing food, family members, and a mate who is unrelated to you).
Where does Labrador smell fall on this spectrum? This is harder to pin down because Labs don’t smell “bad” to all people.
Also, over time and with daily exposure, many Lab owners stop consciously smelling their dog at all.
If you own a Lab and a guest comes into your home and remarks that it “smells like dog,” you might wonder what your guest is talking about.
Why a Labrador Smells Bad
Even if you are someone who has a preference for the Labrador smell, there are times when you simply know it—your Lab smells.
It nearly goes without saying that pinpointing what is causing the odor is the first step to figuring out if your Lab just needs a bath and a good blow-dry.
Or if there may be something going on with your dog’s health that needs veterinary attention.
Unfortunately, figuring out why Labradors smell bad can sometimes require going through a process of elimination.
Here are some of the most common reasons that can cause your Lab to suddenly smell stinkier.
It might be something innocent and simple causing the odor.
For example, perhaps your Lab found something stinky and wonderful in the grass and dropped down to have a good roll.
Freshly bathed, still-damp Labs can also sometimes give off a stronger smell until the coat dries.
Let’s face it. When you have a dog, gas definitely happens.
It can happen more in some dogs than others, but it happens enough in all breeds that there is even a national day dedicated to the issue.
April 8th is National Dog Fart Awareness Day.
Dog gas, like pretty much everything else that happens biochemically inside a dog’s body, is a way to communicate.
If your Lab’s gas gets more frequent or worse, your dog may be trying to tell you his stomach is upset or he is getting ill.
Odor could also be warning of something more serious and urgent. For instance, sometimes illness gives off an odor.
This can be particularly concerning if your dog has bad breath, which may signal anything from simple tartar buildup to cavities or even the onset of periodontal disease.
Bad breath is also one of the early warning signs of canine diabetes and pet cancer.
It is always smart to take your Lab to the vet right away if you notice worsening dog halitosis.
Hormone cycles, where your dog is producing more pheromones, can also kick out more odor, even if your Lab has been neutered/spayed.
Spaying or neutering can help curb the impulse to hump or mate.
But it won’t eradicate a Labrador’s ability to produce pheromones or other hormones, since these are also produced by the adrenal glands.
Pheromones are very interesting. Every animal can produce pheromones, which are a specific type of hormone called an “ecto-hormone.”
This means they are hormones that are secreted outside (ecto) the body for the specific purpose of communicating with other dogs.
So it makes sense that you can sometimes smell them too.
Dogs with floppy ears, like Labradors, are prone to ear infections because their long ear flaps keep the inner ears warm and moist, making it easy for bacteria and yeast to grow.
Infections, especially the yeast that can sometimes accumulate around foot pads and ears, can also produce an odor.
Sometimes this odor is described as a “corn chip” smell.
If your dog’s skin gets too dry or your Lab suffers from allergies, the itching and discomfort can cause your dog to scratch the area until it gets infected.
This, in turn, often causes odor.
Sometimes the anal glands—the two small sacs on either side of your dog’s bum—can get clogged.
When this occurs, the tell-tale odor will alert you that your Lab needs some help in this area.
Your dog’s diet can also cause odors.
If you have recently changed your Lab’s menu, and the increase or change in Labrador smell started around the same time, you may be able to blame it on the diet.
How to Make Your Lab Smell Better
Do Labradors smell?
It depends on the person, and the dog!
If you are on the fence about bringing a Labrador into your life, learning more about Labradors could help.
Making yourself available to be around Labradors before taking them in as pets is even more beneficial.
Some people just have a more sensitive sniffer than other people.
If you are one of those people who is really sensitive to odors, a Lab may not be the best breed choice for you.
However, if you have your heart set on a Lab for your next pet dog and you are worried about dog smell, there are some things you can do to keep your Lab smelling sweet.
Regular Brushing, Bathing and Grooming
Weekly brushing and bathing can wash out anything your Lab may have rolled in as well as keeping his coat clear of debris.
When you bathe your pup, give your dog’s ears a good cleaning.
And be sure to brush your Lab’s teeth regularly as well as scheduling professional tooth cleanings.
Preventative Vet Care
Making sure your dog stays on a regular schedule of health checkups can detect small health issues before they become big, smelly, expensive health issues.
Do the Laundry
Even if you get your Lab to where he smells simply divine, all that will vanish once he heads for his favorite, smelly blanket or much-mouthed favorite toy.
For dog clean that lasts, be sure to launder your Labrador’s bedding, blankets and washable toys as well.
Resources and Further Reading
Horwitz, D., 2012, “Dog Behavior and Training—Neutering and Behavior,” VCA Animal Hospital
Kaufman, C., et al., 2017, “The Social Behaviour of Neutered Male Dogs Compared to Intact Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris): Video Analyses, Questionnaires and Case Studies,” Veterinary Medicine, Vol. 2, Issue 1
Nordqvist, C., 2018, “What Are Pheromones and Do Humans Have Them?” Medical News Today
Nuwer, R., 2013, “We Can Recognize Our Own Scent,” Smithsonian
Thompson, A., 2008, “Your Odor: Unique as a Fingerprint,” Live Science
Wells, D.L., Morrison, D.J. and Hepper, P.G., 2015, “The Effect of Priming on Perceptions of Dog Breed Traits,” Taylor & Francis Online, pgs. 369-377
“Why Your Dog Smells ‘Doggy,’” 2017, Animal Medical Center of New York City
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website