Why Wet Dogs Smell So Bad

The Science of the Doggy Odor

A dry dog also smells bad, you just can't detect the odor as well.
A dry dog also smells bad, you just can't detect the odor as well. GK Hart/Vikki Hart, Getty Images

Dogs have a lot of admirable qualities. Their odor when wet is not one of them. Oh, it's not the dog's fault and it's (usually) not the owner's fault. It's just how dogs are. Yet, have you ever wondered how a creature with a sense of smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than yours can stand to be around itself when wet or why it smells so awful? Here's the science behind the stink and some steps you can take to knock it down a notch.

The Source of Dog Stink

Dogs are people too. Okay, really they aren't, but our canine companions do share a few things in common with people. Like us, their skin produces oil. Just as oil on our skin and hair picks up dirt and hosts (smelly) bacteria and yeast, so does dog sebum. For dogs, the bacteria is mostly Staphylococcus, which is not too bad, plus a selection of yeasts, which smell funky. Some dogs produce quite a lot of oil, especially if they need to waterproof their coats. Unlike humans, dogs don't tend to bathe on a regular basis. More significantly, unlike humans, dogs don't perspire.

Why does perspiration matter? Look at it like this. When are you more likely to smell yourself: (a) When you're sitting at a desk in the office. (b) After an epic cross-fit class. If you answered (a) then I'm guessing you don't work out. The point is, moisture helps us smell molecules. Substances that we smell can dissolve in water or use it to break away from surfaces. Volatile organic acids (which smell) dissolve in water and waft into the air. Damp air can hold more molecules, so they can bind to the chemoreceptors in the nasal passage that enable us to detect an odor. So, when a dog gets wet, it's that much easier for the stanky musk to reach and interact with our olfactory bulbs. If enough molecules are present, an electrical signal goes to the brain and we detect an odor.

Can You Reduce Dog Smell?

There are a few ways to minimize doggy odor. The first is to choose a canine that isn't smelly. Some breeds and some dogs just naturally smell more than others. Breeds used for hunting or herding often smell more strongly than breeds meant for indoor companionship. It's a combination of heredity, hygiene, and health. If you already have a dog and can't control its genes, you can work on hygiene and health. Grooming your dog is important, since it removes excess fur that can trap skin flakes, microorganisms, and bits of poo that didn't quite get where they needed to go. You can bathe your dog, using a shampoo made for canines. Feed your dog a nutritious diet and be aware of changes in body odor. A constant unpleasant odor may signal illness.

The next step is to deodorize areas frequented by your dog. You can neutralize odor using a mixture of vinegar and water, baking soda, or Febreze spray.

But Why? Is There a Reason for Smelling?

Because of their environment, canines need oil on their coats. In the wild, dogs tend to hunt in packs, so their scent isn't as likely to cost them a meal as it would for a solitary hunter, like a cat. So, there isn't any huge disadvantage for a dog having an odor. However, dogs do prefer to mask their scent. How do you hide doggy odor? You roll in the nastiest, most putrid scents you can find. Cleaning your dog does not alter this behavior. The bath just gives man's best friend a different scent to disguise.