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Dogs, from "Cool Hand Luke," a movie with Paul Newman

Subthemes: Smelling, Working, Sports and Racing,

In the movie Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman (playing Luke Jackson) makes a run for it from his prison work detail. The guards track him with a trio of barking bloodhounds. As the pursuers draw near, Luke pours out a can each of red pepper, chili, and another pungent spice that devastates the sensitive noses of the dogs. Take a look at this longish scene, where at about four minutes, the trick takes place. Newman’s ploy throws off the bloodhourds, and allows other subthemes of Dogs.

Smelling: The bloodhounds had been trained to detect and follow the smell of an escapee and had sniffed Luke’s clothing to be able to nose him out. Pet MD tells us that dogs have “up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is about 40 times greater than ours.” Their sense of smell is powerful enough to detect substances at concentrations of one part per trillion—a single drop of liquid in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools. With training, dogs can sniff out bombs and drugs, pursue suspects, and find dead bodies. And more and more, they can sniff human disease — cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, and malaria — from smell alone. One of the oldest uses of detection dogs, albeit less dramatic, is in France where dogs hunt for truffles.

Dogs also have something called neophilia, which means they are attracted to new and interesting odors, we learn from Phoenix Vet Center. Also, dogs can smell separately with each nostril. Just as our eyes compile two slightly different views of the world, and our brain combines them to form a 3-D picture, a dog’s brain uses the different odor profiles from each nostril to determine exactly where smelly objects are located. Your pooch will quickly sniff out the food in the kitchen you forgot to put away. Such nasal magnificence should be on marvelled at on all dog gravestones.

Working: Bloodhounds have been bred to track prey by their scent, and thus were tracking the fleeing Luke. Other dogs, we learn from The Spruce Pets, pitch in to assist humans. Police dogs, often called K-9s, are trained to assist police and other law-enforcement personnel in the line of duty. Police dogs protect their handlers. They can chase down and hold criminal suspects who try to run from police. In some cases, K-9s sniff out substances. Military working dogs are used as detectors, trackers, sentries, scouts and for search and rescue. A detection dog is trained to sniff out one or more substances, such as illegal drugs, explosives, blood, and human remains. Some detection dogs learn to detect cancer, abnormal blood sugar levels, insects such as bed bugs, or animal feces. Search-and-rescue dogs have agility and exceptional senses of smell and hearing. They work in tracking, specialized search, avalanche rescue, and cadaver location. Even with all those skills, I don’t think a dog can dance.

Sports and Racing: Both Luke and his prison guards were deadly serious; this was no game they were playing. Likewise, for centuries owners of dogs raced them or fought them – until the barbarity of those cruel activities led to them being banned. Today, dog racing is illegal in 41 states while in six other states, all dog tracks have closed and ceased live racing. In only three states is pari-mutuel dog racing legal and operational (West Virginia, Arkansas and Iowa). The latter two are now in the process of winding down. Dogfighting is a felony offense in all 50 states and under federal law. It is also a felony to knowingly bring a minor to an animal fight.

But on the happier side, Wikipedia lists many sports that involve dogs without savagery or mistreatment. Like their owners, dogs enjoy playing and competing (maybe watching dancing), so long as they are treated humanely.


Bloodhounds followed by prison guards encounter a smell-destroying concoction spread by the fleeing Paul Newman. Despite their specialized training and incredibly sensitive abilities, with noses disabled by pepper and chili, the game was over for those trackers.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Dogs, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other movies discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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