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Why Do Dogs Sniff Everything?
Jul 16, 2021

Have you ever been in that situation when you are taking your pup on a walk but they just won’t stop sniffing around that tree or that bike on the sidewalk? The act of sniffing a common dog behaviour because that is how your dog understands the world. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and that’s how they understand the world. While we humans mostly use our eyes to see the world, dogs use their noses to distinguish things around them. 

Your dog will demonstrate behaviour of sniffing for two main reasons: for enjoyment or to gather information. When something smells good, it’s natural that you want to take in all the marvellous scents. With such a precise nose, dogs love to sniff around to enjoy all the stimulating scents in this world. If not for enjoyment, dogs will sniff around to gather information. Depending on the breed, your dog’s sense of smell can be 10,000 - 100,000 better than your human sense of smell! The extremely heightened sense of smell in dogs is why sniffer dogs exist in both healthcare and law enforcement agencies. Sniffer dogs can detect all kinds of things from explosives and illegal drugs to viruses such as covid-19! Pretty cool right?

Why does my dog like to sniff other dogs’ butt? 

A funny and common dog behaviour is when dogs sniff each other’s butts. Most dog owners think butt sniffing is a way dogs greet each other, much like the way humans shake hands. However, butt sniffing is an important action that can convey lots of information for dogs. All animals have a scent that is unique to them, for dogs, this scent is located near the butt. Dog’s have two small sacs in their rectum called anal glands, which secretes a noxious smelling substance that is released during bowel movement. Although humans cannot smell this substance, dogs can use the scent for information regarding the gender, diet, health, reproductive status, and temperament of another dog. 

Three dogs in a forest, two dogs sniffing each other's butt

Sniffing is a good dog behaviour that can promote safe socialization, especially when dogs are meeting for the very first time.

The next time you bring your dog to the dog park, don’t worry if your dog is sniffing around another dog’s butt. Dogs that had an adequate amount of sniff time with each other are less likely to fight because they had the chance to gather information about each other already.  

However, it’s important to remember that all dogs are different. Some dogs like to keep their personal space and some like to limit the information they give out to other dogs. Sometimes you might see a dog sit down and clamp their tails over their butts to reduce the odour they emit. If your pup is showing this kind of dog behaviour, it might indicate stress or anxiety. When dogs feel scared or threatened in an environment, they naturally don’t want to interact with other dogs. Although the stressed feeling may come from a past trauma or poor socialization, it can also be a sign that the other dog is being aggressive. Therefore, you should always keep a close eye on your furry buddy to see if they are showing any dog behaviour that might indicate stress and anxiety. 

If your dog is showing signs of stress and anxiety during playtime, do not force them into socialization right away.

First, you want to make sure that other dogs are not demonstrating aggressive dog behavior. Then you want to remove your dog from the stress causing environment and into a safe space. Following the incident, you may want to train your dog and create feelings of security for your dog’s mindset. This can be done by doing 1:1 doggie play dates instead of taking your dog to a dog park. Your dog could be overwhelmed by the scents and sight of too many dogs together, so it may be best to first introduce your dog to another dog with a gentle temper. Slowly build until your dog is comfortable around several dogs at once. If self-training does not prove to be effective, you can reach out to a professional dog trainer, dog behaviorist, or caine ethologist for help. The professionals will be able to better detect signs and create concrete physical and mental exercises to fix your dog’s behavior.


Two black and white boston terrier dogs sniffing each other's butt

Why does my dog like to sniff human crotch?  

Isn’t it embarrassing when you invite a friend over and your dog just won’t stop sniffing their crotch? Similar to greeting another dog, your dog will look for the place on your body that contains the most concentrated apocrine sweat glands, which are the armpits and the genital area. By sniffing the pheromones secreted by these glands, your dog can understand a variety of information such as age, sex, and mood. Dogs can even sniff out when a woman is ovulating, menstruating, or pregnant


Dog’s are always curious and excited to learn more about the world. However, it is still awkward when you have guests over and your pup sniffs them up and down. If you want to stop your dog from sniffing your guests awkwardly, you could ask the guests to gently offer their hands to your dog first. By sniffing the hand, your dog can divert its attention to something else for information. 

 

Letting your dog sniff around during walks 

While it’s well known that you should take your dog out for walks to provide the basic functions of physical and mental health, we sometimes forget to slow down and let our dogs sniff around. Out of the 5 senses, dogs use their nose the most to “see” the world. If you are just walking your dog in a hurry, you may be taking away the mental enrichment your dog gets from sniffing around. It would be like asking a person to take a walk while only looking straight ahead. 

German Shepard dog sniffing around at a park

To allow your dog more time to sniff around, we need to change the way we think about dog walks. It is not always about how far you can walk with your pup, but how much stimulation your dog receives. The balance between enough physical and mental stimulation is delicate and can influence your dog’s behaviour. Too much exercise may result in too little mental stimulation. Similarly, too much mental stimulation may mean insufficient physical exercise. So what can you do? 

Set different goals on walks and closely monitor your pup’s behaviour after each walk.

Not all walks need to be a scent devoted to slow scent walks but you should set out a few walks per week for your dog to sniff around. Pay close attention to see if your dog seems more anxious or energetic after each walk. At the end of the day, every dog will respond differently to the amount of mental and physical stimulation needed. 

Brown dog sniffing a book

Dogs use their nose to “see” the world so we should give them the time and opportunity to do so. When you allow your dog to sniff around, you’re giving them time to understand their surroundings a bit better. This would not only decrease bad dog behaviour but also ensure that your pooch stays safe and happy!
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