Why Do Dogs Sniff Butts

Picture of two dogs in a dog park

It’s a perplexing habit and a little embarrassing.  You’re out enjoying your daily dog walk when Fido spots your neighbour’s dog Fifi and pulls on the lead to greet her with overwhelming excitement.  As the two draw nearer to each other, Fido goes in for the “kill”…he makes a beeline straight for Fifi’s butt and takes a good long sniff.  The horror!

Fido is not alone.  It seems all dogs favor this mode of saying “hello” though it is completely foreign to our sensibilities as humans.  After all, we’d get a slap across the face if we attempted something similar!  Yet canine behavior is deeply rooted in logic, so there must be a reasonable explanation for all of the rear end fascination.

The Naked Truth

Why do dogs sniff butts?

The American Chemical Society has reported that butt sniffing provides our dogs with valuable information about other dogs.  Since dogs possess extremely potent olfactory senses, a sniff is never just a sniff.  By carefully considering the contents of other dogs’ anal glands, your dog is able to learn a great deal about the dog he is sniffing.

Among the things a dog can discern from a thorough butt sniff are:

  • The dog’s gender
  • The dog’s emotions
  • The dog’s food
  • The dog’s home environment
  • The dog’s companions
  • The dogs whereabouts

Amazing that a dog can detect all of these things from a simple nasal exploration, but they can.  The American Chemical Society shares that dogs possess scent detection capabilities that are 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than our own.  In fact, dogs possess a secondary nasal capacity referred to as the Jacobson’s organ.  The sole purpose of this organ is to relay critical chemical messages to the brain.  It allows the dog to separate inconsequential odors from odors that convey important facts to the dog for consideration.

Normal or Not Normal?

Though you might find butt sniffing revolting; to your dog, it is perfectly normal.  It comes as naturally to him as scratching an itch.

Unfortunately, some dogs don’t limit their butt sniffing simply to canine companions.  In an attempt to gather vital information from some of your guests, Fido might make an enthusiastic attempt to launch himself at their bums, or even worse…their groins.

While this is behavior that might seem quite logical to our dogs, it is very off putting to humans and must be discouraged.   Your dog will have to get to know your guests the old-fashioned human way; by spending time with them instead of exploring their… ahem…personal space.

At the same time, it is possible for some dogs to be socially awkward and spend a little too much time sniffing out the nether regions of another dog.  When this happens, it can potentially lead to conflict.  As with all dog to dog interactions, you must carefully supervise your dog when greeting other dogs and be prepared to intervene if necessary.  To cut a greeting shorter than your dog would have liked is far preferable than allowing it to linger a little too long and lead to a dog fight.

Gathering Information or Having Fun?

While most dogs sniff butts to learn more about the dogs they meet, there are other dogs who do it just because they enjoy it.  Consider it the canine equivalent of extreme nosyness (no pun intended).  Just as human beings like to troll social media platforms such as Facebook to learn more about people, so too do our dogs like to gather facts about new dogs they encounter.

You may find your dog will even do this to you!  Most people would prefer Fido just observe what you put in your cereal bowl instead of try to sniff it out later on, but dogs will be dogs.

Changing the Behaviour

Instinctive behavior is nearly impossible to eradicate, but there are things that you can put in place to help curb it.

Since canines convey facts to each other through butt sniffing, the behavior should not be discouraged in dog to dog interactions.  In canine society, it is quite rude for a dog to greet another dog head on and can be interpreted as a challenge.  A face to face greeting carries great potential to lead to a fight.  Should your dog race up to another dog and attempt to go nose to nose with him, it is wise to walk your dog in a wide arc around to the dog’s rear where a proper, polite canine greeting can commence.

As with all greetings, observe each dog carefully to ensure that both are happily engaged.  If one dog is showing signs of discomfort, remove your dog immediately for the safety and well-being of both dogs.

With canine to human behavior, the best course of action is redirection.  If Fido is shoving his nose into places that make your friends uncomfortable, be prepared to lure that nose elsewhere with a treat or favorite toy.  Engage his nose in a different productive activity, and you will soon find that he forgets all about your guests’ nether regions.

Yes, butt sniffing is a normal and natural part of canine interactions.  Rest assured that when Fido does his nasal explorations, he’s actually being a polite and respectful member of canine society. But if his attempts to do the same thing with humans is a problem, redirect those powerful senses to something less embarrassing and more productive for the win!

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Jason Homan

Jason Homan

Jason and his wife Debbie breed award-winning Parson Russell Terriers under the kennel name Bristol Abbey. They share their home with Branson, Bridget, Gigi, and Ollie, their foundation breeding dogs, and Vixen and Jackson, their two rescues.

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