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Why do dogs sniff each other?
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DEAR DIDI:  Why does my dog, when he meets other dogs, sniff their butts. It embarrasses me when I am with my friends! -Embarrassed 13 year old girl


DEAR EMBARASSED:  I am so glad you were bold enough to write in with this question! No question is silly or stupid and sometimes our dogs definitely do things that are embarrassing.  However, once you understand the behavior and the reasons for it, you probably won’t find it so weird.  When two humans meet for the first time we rely on a handshake, smile and some conversation to learn about one another.  Our dogs just have a different ‘how do you do’! 

A canine’s nose is quite a special thing. Their nose print is as unique to them, as our fingerprints are to us. Inside that sniffing machine lies over 300 million scent receptors compared to a human’s nose which has a pathetic 3 million. Basically, we estimate that a dog’s sense of smell is somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 times stronger than ours. So, typically, when two dogs first meet it is normal and necessary for them to sniff each other.  By sniffing the scent glands in the dog’s rear end, a dog will know if the other dog is male or female, ready to mate, had a recent false pregnancy, idea of age, mood, and current health status.  Boy, if I could know that about someone within seconds of meeting them, I probably wouldn’t have as many miscommunications! It can take me years to learn such detailed information about a friend.

Animal Behaviorists frequently study how dogs meet and greet. It is a fascinating observational opportunity as we try to discover what causes a dog to accept another dog or decide they don’t like each other. We wouldn’t want another human sniffing our hind quarters when we meet because, obviously, it is not polite in our world. Many humans don’t like it when a dog tries to sniff them but the dog is doing what comes naturally. It is their way of getting to know you! If one dog won’t allow another to ‘make introductions’ it can lead to a disagreement. However, if the sniffing canine is overly rude, poking and prodding, or hanging out down there for too long, versus a casual sniff, it can be seen by the other dog as being rude.

Breeds of dogs have varying smell abilities. Typically, the longer the dog’s nose the better they can smell. Bloodhounds even have super long ears that reach all the way to the ground just to help stir up the smells around their noses while tracking. There are documented cases of dogs smelling breast cancer in their owners. We use a dog’s sense of smell to train them to work as detection dogs. These working canines smell out contraband, drugs, mold, bed bugs or they can alert their owners to an impending seizure or a drop in blood sugar. Although we expect our dogs to fit into our human society and display polite manners while living amongst us, they are a completely different species with different talents and perceptions. Don’t be embarrassed by your dog’s special ability. Instead, watch and observe how he/she acts and perceives the world. Explain it to your friends and turn it into a joke about a humans lack of ability to know details about each other. Visit to submit your questions.