Why dogs sniff each other’s behinds…and why you should encourage it

By Jeff Stallings

While wearing Otis out at Douglass Dog Park this morning, I witnessed something I have seen too many times:  A red-faced dog owner apologizing for her dog sniffing another dog’s behind. I made a joke about it in an attempt to disarm her embarrassment, then told her not to be ashamed and in fact to encourage her dog to sniff and be sniffed.

Mutual rear-sniffing is the most natural thing in the world when you’re a dog.  You have to remember that the dogs’ sense of smell is roughly equivalent to our sense of sight.  With over 300 million olfactory receptor sites (compared to our 5 million), smell is a dog’s primary way of sensing and knowing about the world—including other dogs.

Many people believe butt sniffing is a dog’s way of saying “hello”, which is not true.  Dogs sniff each other’s butts for a much deeper reason:  to get of whiff of the other dog’s anal glands and thus collect a great deal of information, including the gender, health status, temperament and other information we can hardly even imagine.

A successful, peaceful mutual butt-sniffing will usually disarm any potential aggression between two well-adjusted dogs.  However, dogs that have not been properly socialized to other dogs (and people) as young pups will use their eyes instead of their noses to evaluate a new dog, which can lead to an aggressive, combatative meeting.

So rejoice in the age-old ritual when your dog sniffs another dog’s behind, knowing that the informative back-and-forth is a canine olfactory delight.

(A note about the accompanying image:  This small original painting was a gift from a friend who brought it back from Rio de Janeiro in 2005.   I have proudly had it hanging in my bathroom ever since.)

About Jeff Stallings, CPDT-KA

Having owned well-trained dogs all my life, I started Better Nature Dog Training to exploit decades of experience teaching across a number of fields. I am nationally-certified through the highly-respected Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and am a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. I teach people how to effectively train their dogs by clearly demonstrating that every interaction counts when training a dog to come when called, for example, or instructing a puppy how to best get along in life. I take a scientific and holistic approach to dog training. The scientific aspect comes from understanding dog psychology from an evolutionary perspective, knowing how dogs are both similar to and distinct from their ancestors, including the grey wolf. The holistic component derives from taking into account all facets of any particular dog’s situation, including upbringing, prior training, traumatic events and—most importantly—the characteristics of his home and family life. Training a puppy or dog can be a most rewarding life experience; it can also be stressful and perplexing. One of the best services I provide is taking the guesswork out while lending a sure, guiding hand in successful dog behavior development and modification.
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3 Responses to Why dogs sniff each other’s behinds…and why you should encourage it

  1. Thanks for sharing, “butt” I will leave that kind of delight to the dogs.

    George Vreeland Hill

  2. Lynn mckenzie says:

    A week ago we rescued an 18 month lab Shepard mix. She is fine with other dogs as long as they don’t sniff her butt. When they attempt to them she snaps at them Any thoughts or ideas on how we can resolve this?

  3. Granger says:

    What about dogs that live together for years already. One of them annoys the other all day long by sniffing his butt and his ears, too. Since they’ve been together so long, this is not a social “hello” or “getting to know you” sniff. He stops when we say “NO!” but he’s back at it again 3 minutes later. The sniffee growls and doesn’t like it one bit!

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