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.)