Odious Odors

Dogs love to sniff yucky things but dislike a number of scents we find pleasing. Here’s how to keep their preferences in mind.


Given their interest in getting a close-up smell of undefinable substances and mystery piles outdoors, one would think dogs are happy with just about any odor their noses detect. But they actually have strong dislikes for certain scents, including several we commonly use in our homes. And some of those aromas may also create problems, at least temporarily, for their respiratory systems.

Showing consideration for your dog’s scent preferences matters. His sense of smell is 10,000 to a million times more acute than yours. If he doesn’t like a scent in the air, he has to perceive it incredibly acutely against his predilections. Here are the scents to consider — or reconsider.

Citrus, such as orange, lime, grapefruit, and the ever-popular lemon that is present in diffusers and cleaning products may give you a lift, but most dogs would rather take a pass. It may not be about the scent per se but its potential to irritate your pet’s respiratory system. It’s best to skip citrus scents in your home-care and self-care products.

Ground spices, ranging from chili powder to cayenne pepper and paprika, are too intense for your dog’s nose, and can create a burning sensation that may linger as an irritation. Most dogs will eat any treat you give them, but you might want to save your canine pal some discomfort by not offering him your enchilada leftovers. What you can do is use these spices in your garden soil to keep your dog from digging around your petunias.

Chili pepper contains capsaicin, a chemical naturally found in chili peppers that is responsible for its “heat.” You may like it, but it’s too strong for a dog’s sensitive nose. It can leave your dog’s nose, throat, and eyes burning. Capsaicin-containing vegetables such as jalepenos and poblano peppers are also too much for your dog.

Fresh herbs may transform your cooking, but most dogs dislike herbs, with the exception of mint. (Hence, its presence in mint-flavored treats created for dogs.)

Mothballs may bring memories of Grandma’s house to mind, but they carry a scent that most dogs (and people) do not enjoy. That’s just as well, since mothballs are toxic, capable of causing gastrointestinal upset and other issues. If you choose to place them in your dresser drawers to keep moths at bay, make sure the drawers are always shut when you’re not retrieving something and the dog is away from them. Dogs may not like the odor of mothballs, but they may still eat them (they are dogs, after all), and ingestion is the most common route for toxicity in canines. (As little as one mothball can cause poisoning; mothball fumes are not good for dogs, either.)

Colognes and perfumes are disliked by dogs for a number of reasons. Ingredients that go into these liquid-based fragrances contain alcohol, essential oils, and other chemical compounds, all of which have strong scents your dog does not like. Nail polish and nail polish remover are other beauty products with scents that are too strong for a dog’s sensitive nose. Don’t seat yourself near your dog for a self-manicure, with both polish and thinner bottles exposed to the air.

Household cleaners may be the quickest way to get your dog heading for another room. The strong ingredients used, from citrus scents to ammonia, all create the risk of a burning sensation in the throat and irritation of your dog’s respiratory system. Clean when your dog is in another part of the house so the odor won’t bother him.

Vinegar may be an increasingly popular all-natural cleaner for laundry, tubs, drains, windows, and so on, but it’s not popular with dogs. While it won’t harm your pet, perhaps keep the windows open when you clean with it, give your dog some backyard time if possible, or take him for a walk after you’ve finished sprucing up.

Rubbing alcohol is far too pungent for dogs — place your nose close to the bottle to get a sense of what it’s like for your pet. The higher the percentage of alcohol contained in the bottle, the more unpleasant for your dog.


  1. I found your Odious Odors article useful. One thing, there are many scents that can be used to control moths. I use old washcloths with a drop or two of clove oil to control months. Works great.


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