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Why Do Dogs Sniff Butts? 6 Reasons for This Behavior

Nicole Cosgrove

You arrive at the dog park with your furry best friend. He hops out of the car and is shaking in excitement. His nose moving a million miles a minute to sniff the air around him. He practically 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 dogs sniff butts so you understand why your dog does this weird (to you) behavior.

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6 Reasons Dogs Sniff Butts

1. Sniffing butts is the ultimate in dog communication.

Dogs have stronger olfactory senses than humans do – 150 million olfactory receptors to human’s puny 5 million. They also have Jacobson’s organ (or the vomeronasal organ) in their nasal cavity, which opens behind the upper incisors into the roof of their mouths.

Jacobson’s organ is a second olfactory system that is designed for chemical communication. The nerves in this organ lead directly to the brain and they 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 Jacobson’s organ, sniffing another dog’s butt tells your dog everything he needs to know about his furry friend.

dog sniffing ready to mate
Image Credit: High Simple, Shutterstock

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, but running up and greeting each other by sniffing each other’s butts is the dog version of the human, “Hi! How are ya?”

dog sniffing eachother
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

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 dog’s 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 he’s been up to since they saw each other last, what he’s 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 they haven’t seen in years.

Dog sniffing dog in heat
Image Credit: atiger, Shutterstock

4. Anal glands hold the secrets to another dog.

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

Dog Couple in the field
Image Credit: Ryniu1234, Pixabay

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 he knows 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 Credit: Diederik Hoppenbrouwers, Shutterstock

6. Sniffing butts is soothing.

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

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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 both 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

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.