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Home > Dogs > Why Do Dogs Sniff Butts? Canine Communication Explained

Why Do Dogs Sniff Butts? Canine Communication Explained

dog sniffing another dog butt

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Dr. Maja Platisa

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You arrive at the dog park with your furry best friend. He hops out of the car and is shaking in excitement. His nose is moving a million twitches a minute to sniff the air around him. He prances over to the park gate and you let him in. He charges ahead, and a known friend comes running up to him. They start circling each other and here it comes! They’re sniffing each other’s butts and are ecstatic about it!

Every dog owner has experienced this awkward (to humans) social ritual of dogs, but why do dogs sniff butts in the first place? Read on to learn why your dog does this weird (to you) behavior.

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The 6 Reasons Dogs Sniff Butts

1. Sniffing butts is the ultimate form of dog communication.

Dogs have stronger olfactory senses than humans do150 million olfactory receptors to a human’s puny 5 million.1 They also have the Jacobson’s organ (or the vomeronasal organ), a C-shaped, tubular organ separated by the nasal septum and continuing behind the upper incisors into the roof of their mouths.

The Jacobson’s organ is an olfactory system that is designed for chemical communication. The nerves in this organ lead directly to the brain and respond to the “undetectable” odors of the world, i.e., pheromones.

In the dog world, the combined sniffing power helps the dog know when others are ready to mate or helps puppies locate their mother when they’re ready to eat. Using the combined power of the nose and the Jacobson’s organ, sniffing another dog’s butt tells your dog everything that they need to know about their furry friend.

dog sniffing eachother
Image by: Pezibear, Pixabay

2. They sniff to greet other dogs.

Humans greet each other by shaking hands, hugging, waving, and offering smiles. We then ask each other how the other one is and other appropriate niceties. Dogs read each other’s body language, so running up and greeting each other by sniffing each other’s butts is the dog version of the human, “Hi! How are ya?”


3. Sniffing butts helps with identification.

Dogs that have been separated for a while sniff each other’s butt to confirm the other dog’s identity. All dogs’ anal glands have a scent unique to them, and it tells other dogs everything about that particular dog. Sniffing the butt tells where the dog has been, what they’ve been up to since they saw each other last, what they’ve been eating, etc. Just like a human can associate a smell with a memory of a person, dogs use their even stronger sense of smell to identify dogs that they haven’t seen in years.

Dog Couple in the field
Image by: Ryniu1234, Pixabay

4. Anal glands hold the secrets of another dog.

The anal glands of dogs are potent and serve a definite purpose in the dog world. Most owners don’t realize that their dogs secrete a liquid every time they have a bowel movement, as it comes out with the stool. This secretion provides other dogs with a great deal of personal information. Is the dog healthy? Where have they been? Do they eat a healthy diet? Sniffing another dog’s butt and getting a whiff of their anal glands tells your dog everything that they want to know about that dog.


5. Butt sniffing can establish dominance.

Dominant dogs are usually the first to start the ritual of butt sniffing when two dogs meet. The submissive dog will often stand very still while this occurs, letting the dominant dog get a good whiff so they know that the submissive dog is not a threat. It’s then the submissive dog’s turn. The dominant dog may growl to end the sniffing session, and the submissive dog will stop sniffing and retreat.

dogs sniffing eachother
Image by: Diederik Hoppenbrouwers, Shutterstock

6. Sniffing butts is soothing.

Dogs start sniffing each other’s butts from a young age, and it becomes a soothing ritual for them. If your dog is feeling stressed or upset, they will likely sniff a few butts to calm down and soothe themselves.

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Conclusion

Your dog is ready to head home after a fun hour romping through the dog park, playing with friends, and sniffing tons of butts. He’s calm, happy, and completely worn out. A new dog enters as you’re leaving, and they take a moment to sniff each other’s butts in greeting. They prance around for a minute, and then you leash up your dog to head back to the car. You and your dog hold your heads up high as you walk away because you both know that your dog is the ultimate social charmer. After all, he’s a master of butt-sniffing.

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Featured Image Credit: Vineyard Perspective, Shutterstock

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