It’s very awkward for owners when a dog chooses to greet a human visitor by putting their head between the person’s legs and have a good sniff of their crotch. Dogs do this to other dogs too, and may even encourage it but circling their bodies and presenting the rear end to a visiting canine. Why do dogs do this?
Alongside sight and sound, dogs rely on their sense of smell much more significantly than humans. They have a vomeronasal or Jacobson's organ in their nose, allowing them to analyse all scent over and over again.
What does it mean when a dog sniffs you?
A dog’s view of the world is mainly scent-based, and it brings a lot of information that we humans will never understand or have access to. For many owners, it can often feel very embarrassing to see their dog sniff the genitals of another dog or put its nose in a person’s crotch. But this is actually very normal and instinctive canine behaviour. You may watch on cringing with embarrassment, but your dog has no concept that what they are doing may not be socially acceptable to us humans.
Why do dogs sniff each other’s privates?
The way dogs greet one another follows a familiar pattern. The dogs will circle each other and then sniff each other’s genital and anal area. While we wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing in the human world, this behaviour is part of how dogs communicate with each other. It enables them to learn valuable information about each other through smell. While we tend to use what we see to gather information, dogs use scent glands and their sense of smell.
There are glands on both sides of a dog’s rectum. These produce a strong smell which has the sole purpose of acting as a name tag for your dog and identifies them to other dogs. Meanwhile, dogs also have a scent organ known as the Jacobson’s or Vomeronasal organ, within their nose. This lets them detect and analyse odours as they sniff.
These odours provide them with information about the other dog. For instance, whether it’s male or female and their availability for breeding. In most cases, this canine ritual is consensual and once done, the dogs will then move on to other interactions, such as play.
Why do dogs lick each other’s genitals?
Just like when dogs sniff genitals, when they lick another dog’s privates, it’s a very normal and healthy canine social behaviour. It’s their way of getting better acquainted with each other through scent and grooming of one another. Dogs often lick out of curiosity, to see what things and even other dogs taste like. Just like with sniffing, dogs can find out the age, gender, sexual readiness, health and where the dog has been in the last few days.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with this instinctive behaviour, for the sake of general politeness and to stop dogs from conducting such a long check on one another, you may want to stop it after around 10 to 15 seconds. Some dogs may not want to engage for much longer anyway, so if your dog is a little insistent, it might be worth gently interrupting.
Call “come’ to the dogs and distract them with play and toys. It’s better to do this happily and casually, rather than getting cross. Acting or speaking angrily will just make your dog worried, possibly about greeting other dogs or worse still, anxious about you.
If you call your dog away consistently, then your dog should start to learn that this type of behaviour is only allowed for just a few seconds when you are around.
Why do dogs smell people’s crotches?
When a dog puts their face in your crotch, they have no concept that they are invading your personal space or being inappropriate. As far as they are concerned, they are simply trying to gain information about you through your scent. To them, a person’s private areas are like their name tag or business card that offers more information about them.
Dogs also have an extraordinary sense of smell thanks to the 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose. Compare this to the mere 6 humans have and it’s easy to see how their sense of smell is so significant. Dogs can remember scents for a very long time, so even if a person looks completely different, a dog will be able to recognise them thanks to their scent.
Through his research, psychologist, neuropsychological researcher and dog expert Stanley Coren, has found that dogs are particularly attracted to smelling people’s groin area and even armpits because these areas are rich with apocrine glands. These scent glands produce sweat and the secretions have an odour which is of huge interest to dogs. When your dog sniffs your genitals or even your armpit, it’s simply their way of shaking your hand and finding out about you. You would not allow a stranger into your home without finding out about them first. Your dog is doing exactly the same thing. It’s just that their method is very different and rather personal.
Can you stop your dog from sniffing people’s crotches?
If you find that your dog’s behaviour is a little too embarrassing, you can try to redirect their behaviour. When you know that new people will be coming into the room or environment where your dog is, plan ahead. Ask your dog to sit and reward them for sitting until the new person has been able to settle into the room. You’ll find this easier if your dog is well-trained. Keep some treats in your pocket so their nose is distracted elsewhere. Give some of the treats to any new person that comes into the dog’s environment so they can offer them too and keep the dog focused on the person’s hands instead of their crotch.
Dogs sniffing genitals
Dogs sniff genitals as their way of finding out valuable information about another dog or human. They see it is a way of getting to know another dog or the new person that’s come into their home. While it may cause you some embarrassment, dogs are just doing what comes naturally to them. This is one canine behaviour that dogs simply cannot change, so it is up to humans to be the ones to adapt instead.