A dog’s nose is a pretty magical thing, featuring about 300 million olfactory receptors compared to our paltry six million. With a sense of smell that scientists have determined to be anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 more acute than us humans (and 40 times more brain space devoted to analyzing the odors they encounter) it’s safe to say that all dogs are impressive when it comes to the power of their snouts. But some are even more impressive than others.
Scent hounds are a class of dog that primarily uses scent—and not sight—to navigate the world around them. They generally feature long ears that hang close to the ground to help “scoop up” scents as they go, plus short statures that ensure they’re always close to where the action is (or more specifically, where the odors are).
01 of 10
Beagles have one of the best noses in the entire canine kingdom, plus a keen intelligence that comes in handy when you’re trying to pick up a particular scent. Their small size, plus their athleticism and natural affinity for agility, makes Beagles a formidable scent hound with plenty of energy to keep on the trail for hours on end.
Height: 13 to 15 inches
Weight: 20 to 30 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Short, muscular, and solid, with long ears and a standard tri-color coat; long tails that are carried high, plus a squarish muzzle and snout nose—both ideal for keeping their nose as close to the ground as possible.
02 of 10
That wiener dog stature isn’t just for show. Despite their small size, Dachshunds are prized hunters who use their nose to track subtle scents both on the ground and in the air. And in fact, they’re the only breed of scent hound certified to hunt both below and above ground—pretty impressive for such tiny pups.
Height: 8 to 9 inches (standard), 5 to 6 inches (miniature)
Weight: 16 to 32 pounds (standard), <11 pounds (miniature)
Physical Characteristics: Long, muscular body and short legs (hence the hot dog comparison), with an elongated head that allows them to dig their nose into the ground with minimal effort; shorthaired, longhaired, and wirehaired coat varieties
03 of 10
Another short breed with incredible scent capabilities, the Basset Hound has been bred for years to help on the hunting field, and has a natural ability to pick up on and track even the most subtle of smells. It’s no surprise that they’re also quite squat in stature—a useful characteristic when your job is to keep your nose on the ground.
Height: less than 15 inches
Weight: 40 to 65 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Stocky with long ears and a rectangular appearance; droopy, sometimes red eyes; bowed legs
04 of 10
Pointers aren’t short and stock like many of their scent hound counterparts, but don’t let that fool you. This breed is one of the best hunting companions around, with a special talent for air-based prey. They feature a deep muzzle, wide nostrils, and ultra-powerful sniffers that are quick to pick up the trail.
Height: 23 to 28 inches
Weight: 45 to 75 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Long and lean, with a short a coat that’s sometimes solid and sometimes has markings; notably wide nose, and upright tails that serve as a finger of sorts when it comes to pointing out targetsContinue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
With a name like the American Foxhound, it shouldn’t be a surprise that these dogs excel when it comes to their scent abilities. This breed absolutely loves to put their nose to work, and are one of the few scent hounds that heads out on their own to track while their humans stay in place. When they catch a scent, they let out a bark—specifically referred to as a “bray”—that alerts their companions to the trail.
Height: 21 to 25 inches
Weight: 60 to 70 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Similar in appearance to a Beagle but with a tall and lean frame; tri-color coat, plus the long ears that are ubiquitous with scent hound dogs
06 of 10
There are quite a few varieties of Coonhounds, including Bluetick, American, Black and Tan, and Redbone, and they all have highly prized noses and scent work capabilities. Where the various Coonhound breeds differ is in what their noses are best for, with some best suited to “hot” work (fresh trails) and other more adept at “cold” work (old trails).
Height: Depends on specific breed; generally around 20 to 25 inches
Weight: Depends on specific breed, and may be anywhere from 40 pounds to 100+ pounds
Physical Characteristics: Exact physical characteristics of a Coonhound depend on his or her specific type, but there are some key features you’ll see among all of them: quintessential droopy ears, long legs, and long tails
07 of 10
Is there any scent an English Springer Spaniel can’t pick up? This scent hound is a pro at picking up both hot and cold scents, as well as picking up scents in both wet and dry conditions. Scents in the wind? You bet they’re on the trail there too. This ability to apply their impressive snouts to a wide range of conditions have made the English Springer Spaniel a preferred breed for things like explosives tracking, narcotics tracking, and even finding human remains.
Height: 19 to 20 inches
Weight: 40 to 50 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Compact bodies and feathering on the ears, chest, and legs; built for speed, with legs that are optimized for going the distance
08 of 10
We’d be remiss to leave the Bloodhound off of this list. Bloodhounds are the poster child of the scent hound breed, and one of the original tracking breeds. They’ve been bred to put their noses to work on the hunt since as early as 1000 A.D., and have a one-track mind that is loathe to give up on a scent once they’ve found it.
Height: 23 to 27 inches
Weight: 80 to 110 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Distinct physical traits like huge ears, loose skin, and notoriously wrinkly faces and necks; one of the most physically powerful of all of the scent hound breeds, with a long frame that allows them to cover lots of ground at once—even when standing in placeContinue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
They may look more Shih Tzu than hound, but Petit Basset Griffon Vendeens are widely celebrated for their scent-tracking skills. For centuries, this breed has been putting their superior nose work abilities to help track rabbits and other small prey, with a remarkable ability to keep on track regardless of the terrain and outside conditions.
Height: 13 to 15 inches
Weight: 25 to 40 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Short and strong, with tousled hair and deep, kind eyes; carries themselves large and proud, with a cute beard that makes them pretty much irresistible
10 of 10
You might not know much about the Harrier, which is an English scent hound breed that hasn’t made much of an appearance in popular canine culture (the AKC ranks them a lowly 189 out of 195 breeds). But while they might fly under the radar, Harriers are no stranger to the hunt, with short legs and strong noses that can carefully follow any animal they set their snouts on.
Height: 19 to 21 inches
Weight: 45 to 60 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Look like large Beagles, but are smaller than the Foxhound who also has that claim to fame; plenty strong—the better for a long day on the hunt—and have low set ears and loose lips that are equally integral to their scent hounding abilities
Breeds to Avoid
All dogs have exceptional noses, but they’re not all worthy of serving as scent hounds. Some breeds that aren’t ideal if you’re looking for scent hound qualities are short-snouted breeds like English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Boxers, as well as notably non-scent dogs like Greyhounds, Whippets, and Chinese Crested.