BehaviorSensory PerceptionWhy is My Dog Sniffing the Air and Looking Up?

Why is My Dog Sniffing the Air and Looking Up?

Dog’s have an incredible sense of smell. If your dog is sniffing the air and looking up, there’s a good chance they smell something that they want to investigate. When they can’t pinpoint where a smell is coming from, they will stick their nose in the air and sniff for a while until they figure out where the scent is coming from. 

Just about every dog owner knows that dogs do some strange things from time to time. Although many of their odd behaviors are harmless, a few may seem somewhat concerning.

Many dog owners freak out when they see their dog sniffing the air and fixating on something above them. To the human eye, there is nothing there. Some owners speculate that either their dog is going crazy or they can see ghosts.

Ok, maybe your dog can’t see ghosts, but what’s the real reason for this odd behavior? Unfortunately, there’s no “correct” answer to this question. The reason could be as simple as your dog smells something good and wants to investigate. Or perhaps they see an insect on the ceiling that is hard for a human to spot.

However, this behavior could also signify a health issue, such as an eye problem or a focal seizure.

This article will go over the reasons why dogs sometimes look up and sniff their air. It will also address why your dog may be looking up at a particular spot after sniffing.

Reasons Why Your Dog Sniffs The Air

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Experts say that dogs “see” the world through their nose. Since smell is their primary sense, there are many reasons your dog is smelling the air and looking in a particular direction.

Let’s get the most obvious (and most common) explanation out of the way.

Something Smells Good

Dogs experience the world through their nose. While humans have five million olfactory receptor cells, dogs have over three hundred million! With all those olfactory receptor cells, it is hard for a dog to ignore all the smells that come their way.

If your dog is obsessively smelling the air, there’s an excellent chance he probably just smells something good.

If you are out in the park, he will easily smell all the other humans, dogs, and wildlife nearby. If he is at home, there are probably many smells inside and outside the house that he can pick up on.

Just because you can’t smell what your dog smells doesn’t mean it’s not there.


If your dog is sniffing the air and ground a lot, this could be a sign of nervousness. His incredible nose or ears may have picked up on something unusual or frightening, and he is sniffing the air to get more information.

If your dog is nervous about something, he will show other signs. Common signs that your dog is anxious include tucking the tail, flattened ears, and frequent yawning.


When dogs are in stressful situations, they may start sniffing everything to distract themselves. Other symptoms of stress in dogs include yawning, lip licking, shaking, stretching, freezing, refusing to eat, having sweaty paws, and excessive shedding.

If you believe that your dog is sniffing the air due to stress, identify the stressor and remove it from your environment.


If your dog is sniffing the air constantly, he has picked up a scent that he likes and wants to investigate. The smell is probably unfamiliar to him, so he isn’t sure where to find it. If he believes the scent is in a particular direction, he may stare rigidly in that direction, trying to find the source.


In some situations, dogs use their noses to avoid an uncomfortable situation. For example, if a strange dog or human comes near your dog, he may try to avoid them by sniffing in a different direction.

He may also start sniffing to avoid a distressing situation. A telltale sign that this is the case with your dog is if he immediately stops smelling after the person, dog, or situation has passed.

If your dog is frequently sniffing, there usually isn’t a cause for concern. Dogs use their nose to navigate the world, which means they will sniff a lot. Don’t stop them from doing this, as this can create stress as he is being punished for something natural to him.

Sniffing The Air And Looking Up

It’s one thing to spot your dog sniffing a lot; it’s another to watch him fixate on a particular spot on the wall or ceiling. Watching your dog do this can be unnerving. Though he is probably just looking at an ant, this behavior can also signify some health problems.

He Sees Something

Not only do dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but they have incredible sight too. If your dog is sniffing a lot and staring at the wall or ceiling, he may smell and see something you don’t.

One way to ensure that his behavior is not a sign of a health problem is to get a closer look at the spot he is fixated on.

Sometimes, dogs can sense pests within the walls. Dogs have been known to spot carpenter ants and silverfish living in the walls and ceiling. If you have determined that your dog is perfectly healthy, you may want to have an exterminator check out the spot your dog is fixated on.

Eye Problems

There are times where your dog sees something, but it doesn’t mean that something is crawling on the wall or ceiling. Sometimes, this behavior is a sign of an eye problem.

Dogs are known to fixate on certain spots when the issue was with their eyes the whole time. The problem can be as simple as a scratched cornea or an object (like a tiny blade of grass) caught in one of the eyes.

Focal Seizure

When people see the word seizure, they immediately picture a person writhing on the floor. However, not all seizures involve the entire body. A focal seizure is a seizure that occurs in one area of the body.

If your dog is staring intently at the wall or ceiling, and you can’t get him to stop, then your dog may be experiencing a focal seizure. If this is the case, then you should take him to your vet immediately.


If you have an elderly dog that has started exhibiting this odd behavior, it may just be a sign of age. Like humans, dogs show strange behaviors as they get older.

While humans suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s as they age, dogs suffer from canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

If your elderly dog is fixating on the wall or ceiling, you should have a vet check him for this condition.

Compulsive Disorder

Some dogs, either out of boredom or being overstimulated, develop a compulsive disorder. There are many symptoms of compulsive disorders, including staring into space, chasing lights or shadows, or constantly chasing and licking their tails.

If your dog has a habit of staring at the wall and doing anything else that seems compulsive, he may have a compulsive disorder.

How to End This Behavior

The best way to get your dog to stop this behavior is by distracting him. If you can distract him easily, and he doesn’t go back to that spot later, then your dog is probably fine.

However, if he keeps staring at the walls or ceiling, and you know that your home doesn’t have any pests, you should take your dog to the vet. Though this behavior could just be some obsession, it could also result from a health problem.

Watching your dog sniff the air and look up at a particular spot can be an eerie experience. Many owners become concerned about this behavior. Though some health conditions can cause your dog to act this way, your dog could also just smell, hear, or see something that you don’t. However, if you are concerned, it never hurts to take your dog to the vet just in case.

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