One of the best things about living with dogs is the unbridled joy with which they greet us every time we come home—no matter how long we’ve been away. It has long been thought, and oftentimes documented, that dogs have a sixth sense that allows them to “know” our ETA in advance. Just how do they do it?
In Alexandra Horowitz’s new book, Being a Dog, she offers what seems to be a very reasonable explanation. It isn’t that they can smell us from afar or hear our footsteps or the car motor. Rather, as she writes, “there was a potent combination of two forces leading to these dogs’ abilities. The first is the distinctness of our smell to our dogs. The second is the ease with which dogs learn our habits.”
As she goes on to say, “It might be that the odors that we leave around the house when we leave lessen in a consistent amount each day.” Basically, our smarty dogs’ amazing noses know that “over the hours we are gone, our home begins to smell less of us.”
She tested this theory by recruiting a colleague to sneak one of her partner’s stinky t-shirts into the house hours after her partner left, once again infusing the house with his odor. And yes, the ruse seemed to work. That day, their dog, who had reliably demonstrated that he knew when his person was nearing home, was found snoring on the couch.