Do you ever go to greet your dog, but instead of sweet kisses on your face you’re met with a nose in your … ahem … privates?
We spoke with Dr. Vanessa Spano, a vet with Behavior Vets in New York City, to find out what’s up with your dog’s awkward obsession with smelling your crotch.
What Can a Dog Sense From Smelling Your Crotch?
Some human crotches are more likely to attract a dog’s curious nose:
All of these will pique a dog’s interest. This is because those people are excreting a higher level of pheromones. So even when a dog is familiar with their owner, if that owner is menstruating or just had a baby, they are letting off a different smell and the dog wants to know why. This may also be why dogs often steal underwear since the undergarment carries an owner’s scent.
A dog’s ability to smell pheromones means they may be able to tell when a woman is ovulating. In his book, How Dogs Think, Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc., FRSC writes about how Australian Shepherds were trained to sniff out cows that had just ovulated. This method, which is reportedly easier than other ways to predict ovulation in livestock, has helped ranchers breed cows during their short breeding window. While it is not definitively proven that dogs can detect ovulation in humans, they can at least sense changes in their owners. A dog’s ability to detect ovulation may also extend to their ability to sniff out ovarian cancer.
Dogs aren’t well-versed in the world of human boundaries, especially when it comes to using their nose. They often greet a new dog with a quick sniff of a rear end, so that often extends to how they greet a new human. Dogs will shove their noses into a human’s crotch, owner or guest, with no hesitation. While the invasive sniffing can be embarrassing, especially if your dog does it to a visitor, it’s their way of saying hello and learning about someone.
A dog’s nose is a powerful tool. Dogs have up to 300 million scent sensors in their noses, compared to humans who only have 6 million. This means that their sense of smell is 10,000 times greater than ours. According to an analogy by Michael T. Nappier, DVM, DABVP, of the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, dogs can “detect the equivalent of a 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
Dogs even have a special organ specifically dedicated to processing smells called Jacobson’s organ, or the vomeronasal organ. The organ, located above the roof of the mouth, plays an important role in how a dog interprets smell. It is connected to the scent-dedicated part of the dog’s brain, which is about 40 times larger than that of a human. This is why dogs are used to sniff out drugs, bombs, cancer, insulin levels, bed bugs, and more.
Dogs have glands on either side of their rectum. These glands produce a strong smelling discharge that seems to serve no other purpose aside from serving as a name tag for your dog. They identify him to other dogs and tag his feces as belonging to him. He can carry and leave his mark with these secretions and sees no reason that you would not do the same, only you stand upright and so your scents are in a slightly different location for him to access.
Does your dog seem to always have his face in people’s crotches? Embarrassing, isn’t it? Well, don’t be too embarrassed. Dogs see the world with a different sense than we do. In addition to sight and sound, they depend on their sense of smell dramatically more than humans. When they approach you in this way, they are not just being a “space invader”. They are trying to gain information about the person through a scent inspection. To a dog, the private areas are like a name tag or even a business card with more information about an individual. If you watch dogs interact with each other, they often start by sniffing each other’s rears.
As a non-verbal species, sniffing you in such a way is akin to shaking your hand and asking your name and where you live. We, humans, are not scent markers, but we do write our names on our own stuff with permanent markers to label it as ours. We define our properties with maps and surveyors and we know what it means to stake a claim. You would not allow a stranger into your home without getting some basic information from him or her. Your dog is doing the same thing. It’s just that his method of background check does not agree with our human cultural norms.
Dogs are dogs, even though they have adapted tremendously to live and thrive with us. Some things are just “dog things” and we have to realize that we are the ones that need to adapt!
If your dog’s curiosity is embarrassing you, you can try to redirect his behavior. When new people come into the room or environment, plan ahead and ask your dog to sit. Then reward his sitting until the new person has been able to sit down or settle into the room. Stash treats in your pockets or a pouch on your hip, so his nose is drawn elsewhere. Give some of the treats to any new person that comes into the environment, so they can offer them too and keep the dog focused on their hands instead.