Why Is My Dog Sniffing The Air And Looking Up?

wire-haired dachshund sniffing the air and looking up

Dogs are great pets, and you soon learn many of their unique habits. However, some like sniffing the air and looking up, leave dog owners baffled. This tendency is associated with the canine trying to find the origin of a scent or sound but can also mean the dog is nervous or even has a neurological disorder.

It’s fairly simple to distinguish the three reasons why your dog is sniffing and looking up by observing other aspects of their behavior. Read on to find out more about this habit. 

Understanding a Dog’s Sniffer

Dogs have both an incredible sense of smell and also of hearing. This is why they are used in hunting and also for rescue. A dog has a sense of smell that is up to 100,000 times stronger than that of humans. A dog will pick up on scents you would never know about.

A dog’s hearing is similar. Dogs can hear sounds as high as 65,000 Hertz (Hz), while most adult humans can only hear sounds up to 20,000.

This combination of smell and hearing makes dogs acutely aware of their surroundings. They can hear thunder before you do and smell the rain before it comes. They can also smell other humans in the air even though they are beyond eyesight.

Four Reasons Why Dogs Sniff the Air and Look Up

They want to know the origins of the smell

The air carries many smells that humans can’t smell. This can be from animals, food, or humans. Dogs quickly pick up on this, raise their heads to get a good whiff and determine where the scent stems from.

Your dog may instantly go into tracking mode after getting the scent. Your dog may then put its nose to the ground to track the smell or start walking with its head in the air, occasionally pausing for a new sniff to follow the scent.

Remember, dogs make great trackers for emergency crews. They can track a human scent for miles. It might be good to find out what they are tracking, as long as it doesn’t take you far from home, as it could be an injured or lost animal or even a hurt child.

They hear a sound 

As stated, a dog has excellent hearing. When your dog hears a sound it doesn’t understand, it will raise its head and sniff to try to associate a smell with the sound. A dog is also trying to determine which direction the sound or smell is coming from, what it is, and whether it is a threat or food.

His reaction will tell you what may be intriguing him. Licking or hopping around could mean he’s smelling food or some small animal he wants to chase. Cowering or getting closer to you may indicate he senses a threat. 

Understanding what your dog is sensing largely depends on observing several of his combined reaction.

They are nervous

This reason can be a little more complicated than simple air sniffing, so you will have to see if your dog is portraying other behaviors to determine if he is nervous. Air sniffing alone doesn’t mean he’s worried. It is a combination of air sniffing with the different behaviors that show he is scared.

Here are other behaviors to be aware of:

  • Whining

Whining is typically a sign of being uncomfortable or stressed in some way. A dog that sniffs the air and then whines might be experiencing a threat by the smell. He could also be smelling something that is somewhat exciting, but that makes him nervous too.

However, a dog could also whine after sniffing to get your attention. That would depend on the type of relationship you have now.

  • Shaking

Some dogs are prone to shaking more than others because they are naturally more nervous. Understanding what is making them nervous is key to helping them.

When your dog sniffs the air and then shakes, there is likely something in the air that is stressing him out. Take him to a different spot and see if his reaction is different. Try a different time of day as well.

It could be that a larger dog is let out when your dog is out, or someone is walking around the neighborhood near the fence, and your dog senses it. Trying different spots and times will help you figure that out.

  • Pacing

Some dogs pace when they are tracking a scent. A dog that paces nervously is a different story. When your dog sniffs the air and then paces back and forth without putting its nose to the ground or in the air to track a scent, that is a sign of nervousness.

This typically happens when a dog sniffs a storm. It could be a rainstorm, snow, or other bad weather. It also may be hearing thunder while smelling the storm. You may not hear anything or smell anything.

Remember, dogs can hear and smell far better than us. Some dogs can predict storms, shown by their nervousness, that won’t hit for two or three hours.

Make mental notes when your dog paces. Then, take a look around to see what could be the problem. Wait to see what happens over the next couple of hours to see if it’s a storm.

Your dog is ill

Your dog could have some neurological problems, and constant air sniffing could indicate that, although that is somewhat rare. It could have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a dental issue, stomach problems, or other brain issues.

Yes, some dogs can develop OCD. This is when a dog does something repetitively to soothe themselves because they are stressed. 

You will know this is the case if the behavior starts suddenly and your dog can’t seem to control it. You may discover this behavior happens only at certain times, like when a storm comes, or you try to crate the dog.

Dogs can also have canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), which primarily affects older dogs. It is similar to dementia and affects how they think. In this case, they may sniff the air for no reason at all. A dog with CCD will also show signs of disorientation, using the bathroom in the house, and changes in their sleep patterns.

Dental problems can also result in your dog lifting its head to sniff more than usual. That’s because a dog overproduces saliva when they have dental issues. They are simply trying to stop saliva from flowing.

A dog with stomach issues may be experiencing some pain. He will raise his head to stretch as the pain starts for relief. You will know your dog is doing this because of pain and associated issues like vomiting and diarrhea.

Take your dog to the vet if you notice several of these behaviors simultaneously.


A dog sniffing the air and raising his head to the sky is perfectly normal most of the time. Dogs just want to get a better sniff by getting higher. There could be times the behavior could mean something more severe like a neurological or physical issue, but those are typically associated with other behaviors.

You can investigate what a dog is smelling to see what is piquing its interest, but that could also be fruitless as dogs can catch a scent for miles around.

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