Hey there! Welcome to my blog. I'm a free dog living in Portugal and I write about my life as an artist and street dog. This blog is a way for me to have more of a connection with other dogs (and people), to share ideas, experiences and some of my art. I love to hear what others have to say so feel free to comment on any of the posts or to contact me via e-mail. If it's your first time here, you might want to check out my first post and read on from there. You can also have a look at my profile in the column to the right.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dogs smell colour. People don't. How crazy is that?

I bring this up because of a comment from Dan Kent (click here to go to his blog) about how it's difficult to describe colour to a blind person or sound to a deaf person. At first I didn’t quite know what he meant by describing colour to a blind person because a blind dog has no problem with colour. Being blind doesn’t affect your nose, right? But apparently people see colour in as many variations as we dogs smell colour. Then I remembered a discussion I had a while back with an artist person I know. I had jotted down my thoughts at the time  and I’ve just gone back to my journal and re-read that bit.

She had said something about seeing the variation in a particular colour as she mixed some paint. I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I could smell the nuances, but see them? I tried plugging my nose and there was barely any variation in the colour at all. When she tried plugging her nose she could still perceive all the variation. It’s like magic.  So this seemed to confirm it. People don’t smell colours. I mean at all. None. Nada. Zip. This seemed impossible so I did some research and whoa! It’s true. I find the whole situation very confusing.
Hey people, can’t you smell the the variety of greens of this building?
This website [click the purple text - or the text that smells purple (sorry, just a bit of human-teasing humour) if you want to see the article] supposedly shows the difference between how people and dogs perceive colour.  It shows two bands of colour. One is how dogs perceive colour and one is how people perceive it. To me, the two bands obviously smelled different from each other but when I plugged my nose they were the same. [Note to those people who have read my post about communication through scent. (Fire hydrants are to dogs what notice boards are to people) I mentioned that until the computer whizzes figure out how to send scent over the internet, we dogs will have to use language. Obviously the scent of colour can be transmitted. It’s the scent of messages that can’t be transmitted over the internet. Believe me, if you’re a dog it’s perfectly logical.]

According to various websites, humans are able to detect between 100 and 10,000 different scents. (Come on people. How can one website say 100 and another say 10,000?)  We dogs on the other hand blow those numbers out of the water. I got this from wikianswers: “Generally dogs have an olfactory sense approximately 100,000 to 1,000,000 times more acute than a human’s. A Bloodhound (the dog with the highest sense of smell) has a 10,000,000 to 100,000,000 higher ability than a human.” So you do the math. (Aside- Why aren’t there more Bloodhounds who are artists? Too lazy? I know a Bloodhound. I’ll have to ask him.)
This red smells spicy and sweet at the same time.
But then I got to thinking about personal perception - among dogs that is. (I still can’t wrap my brain around how people perceive colour.) A particular colour of teal blue would smell a certain way to me, but maybe it smells different to another dog. We both call it teal blue but how we react to it or perceive it is different.  And I suppose I should say that for us dogs the nuances of a scent are often associated with a taste as well – as in “a delicious red-orange” or a “yucky grey-green”, or more specifically a “buttery yellow” or a “café com leite brown”. But trying to describe the scent of a colour without an associated taste is really hard. I mean what can I say? Teal blue just smells like … well, like teal blue. Sheesh. I think it’s easier to describe how the scent of a colour makes us feel.
The colour of this sky sort of burns my nose. It makes me feel uneasy.
Maybe that’s why some dogs (and people?) prefer certain colours over others. I’m not very fond of a certain shade of moldy green but a friend of mine loves it. Maybe what he perceives is different than what I perceive. Maybe what he perceives when he sniffs that moldy green is actually what I perceive when I sniff a certain orangey-yellow. Does that make any sense? His perception of what we both call moldy green matches my perception of what we both call orangey-yellow.  And that’s why he likes the moldy green. Our perceptions of that same colour are different. When he smells the moldy green it wakes up his salivary glands and he wants to roll around on the colour, rub it all over his fur. When I smell the moldy green I get a lumpy feeling in the back of my throat and I find it hard to swallow and my stomach feels quivery. But when I smell the orangey-yellow my salivary glands jump to attention and I want to roll around on it and rub it all over my fur. Maybe every dog’s favourite colour is really the same – or at least once it gets to our brain it’s the same.

Okay, stop the presses! I just found something really interesting. Apparently some people DO smell colour. Check out this article about a condition called synaesthesia. Click the purple text, but please come back and finish reading my post (or just carry on reading this and you’ll get a synopsis.) Some people (it’s quite rare) can smell colours or hear colours or see numbers as colours or … there’s a whole list of variations. Wow. Maybe some people are part dog? It all has to do with neural connections in the brain getting pruned away in most people but for some they don’t get pruned as much, if at all.

And speaking of the brain, mine now hurts. I think I need to go chase a cat to dust the cobwebs out from between my ears. But if anyone reading this has a comment or can enlighten me, please feel free.


  1. Hi Ruca, Interesting post! Let me just say that for me I see Monday as Red, Tuesday : Blue, Wednesday: Green, Thursday: Grey, Friday: Black, Saturday: Yellow and Sunday:Orange. Finally somebody gets it, thanks Ruca. love william.

  2. Silly me, I thought dogs could only see in black/white/grey. Really interesting post, thanks Ruca!

  3. Well William, it sounds like you have some form of synaesthesia - if it's called that when dogs have it. So do you have a favourite colour and is it one of the colours of the days? Does that then make that day your favourite day?

  4. It is interesting isn't it Joanna. And you're not necessarily silly - you probably never thought to ask your dogs about colour.

  5. You sure do cover some interesting subject matter, Ruca. Thank you for explaining to the humans about how we sense color. My humans had no idea. And thanks for explaining how they do it. I pretty much had figured out that they couldn't smell much of anything.

  6. Lola, I'm glad you're enjoying my ramblings. As for the lack of smellability in people, it doesn't come as a huge surprise. Some (not all of course)of them can be pretty insensitive sometimes.

    Hi to Franklin!

  7. I am the color does not matter. My mom feels color. In blue it freezes when it is warm red, orange and green when she feels well. Violet is the first time: with care!
    Interestingly Post

  8. Mischka, maybe there are more colour sensitive people than we know about.

  9. I love how it all boils down to perspective.

  10. Good question Ruca. On reflection I think my favourite colours are Yellow and Blue which follows that my favourite day is Wednesday!....love william.

  11. Hey William, I love that you know how to mix colours!

  12. wow, what a talented illustrator you are..

    And I LOVE the photo of ruca digging...

    thanks for popping over to my blog, I think I will return as my won art journals have been lying still for years...

  13. Well grrl, thanks for the compliment! Actually the photo is my friend Buddy, but he does look a lot like me. And don't leave your art journals lying around! Get 'em out and have some fun! Hi to dog from me.


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