Dog Afraid of Smoke

Dog Afraid of Smoke

Don’t Let a Dirty Oven Spoil Your Dog’s Holiday!

By: Bonnie Sweebe

Stress clings to the holidays like dog hair on a black coat. Mine began last week when I fired up the oven for some Christmas baking.

Has this ever happened to you?  You preheat the oven to start your holiday cooking.  The oven beeps.  You open the door, forgetting about the last food spillover, and smoke rolls out. 

You run to open a window, but you’re too late. The smoke alarm goes off sending the dog into a panic. You turn off the oven, open a window, grab a dish towels to fan the blasted siren while the dog freaks out.

Your furry friend runs into the bathroom and hides behind the toilet. Finding no relief, it pants and darts back and forth and heads for the closed basement door. Bam! Whining, it runs to the laundry room, scratching to escape through the back door, petrified of the smoke that is prohibiting fresh air from passing through the dog’s narrow airways and entering into its tiny lungs. Everyone is shouting orders.  Holiday stress is here—even for your dog.

Do all dogs dislike smoke? Probably. Do all dogs react the same way? No. Reactions can vary from avoiding the smell to shear panic. It all depends on the dog’s fears, sensitivities and scent detection.

According to Stanley Coren Ph.D. in his article in Psychology Today, the reason dogs are more skilled at scent detection is that humans have far fewer scent receptors in their noses—5 million smell analyzing scent cells versus 225 million in some dog breeds.

And it doesn’t matter how small or tall the dog is. What matters is the size of its nose. What matters is surface area.

The longer and wider a dog’s nose, the more surface area the dog has and therefore the more olfactory or smell receptor cells. A large German shepherd can have the same 225 million smell receptor cells as a small beagle, depending on the size of the nose. The same would not hold true for a bulldog or pug with a short muzzle and far fewer smell receptor cells.

The act of smelling is called olfaction. A dog’s negative frenzied reaction to a smell is called panic. Panic can begin this way.


A smell enters a dog’s nose and is detected by their scent receptor cells. The dog begins to sniff and identify the scent. The sniffing disrupts the dog’s normal breathing rhythm. The more the dog sniffs, the more stimulated and the more anxious it becomes. If the dog perceives a scent as negative and threatening, a fight or flight reaction may occur.

The dog does not see a threat to battle, so it tries to escape. If that is not possible, the dog begins to pant heavily, whine and tremble. Blood pressure escalates. At this point, no amount of consolation will stop the panic instinct.  In fact, offering words of reassurance and pampering do more damage than good. The behavior continues or may increase.

The trigger, in my case the smoke, needs to be removed before the dog can settle down. And care must be taken to make sure that the dog doesn’t harm itself in the process. The dog is afraid.

Does the dog have a tucked tail? Are the guard hairs raised on the back of the dog’s neck?  Is the dog attempting to escape or hide? These are obvious indications of fear. 

Canine fears can develop during fear periods in puppyhood or develop over time. Thunder, electronic beeps, sirens, vacuum cleaners, washers, gunshots, fireworks, umbrellas, large metal objects like ladders are just a few examples of dog fear triggers. There are many more. 

The best way to avoid dog panic and chaos is to recognize canine stress when it starts.

Dog stress indicators include: the dog looking away, lip licking, yawning or biting at itself.  If you see your dog exhibiting any of the above behaviors, seek out a possible stress trigger before canine pandemonium begins.

Or in my case, regularly clean your oven. I think I’ll do that right now!

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Bonnie Sweebe is a dog lover, dog owner, dog advocate, and rescue and service dog volunteer. She is also the owner of WelcomePup.com, an online dog gift delivery company.