You say crotch-sniffing is rude. Your dog says it's just communication.
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close up of dog's nose; why do dogs sniff your private parts
Credit: Brie Goldman

If you've ever defended your nether regions from a sniffing dog, you've probably thought: why do dogs want to smell your crotch? It's awkward and embarrassing. Or what about when guests come over and your pup's bullet nose zeroes in on everyone's bums? Talk about awkward. We asked Alison Gerken, DVM, a veterinarian who treats behavioral disorders in pets at the San Francisco SPCA, what it means when a dog sniffs your bum and how you can stop it.

Why Do Dogs Sniff Human Crotches and Bums?

Dogs love to smell everything, from clothes to trash to people's crotches. They have an incredible sense of smell that's 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than humans. Smell is their primary sense, and they use it to find food, mates, and learn about their environment. It's so sharp, scientists say, that canines can detect a teaspoon of sugar added to a million gallons of water (two Olympic pools worth!). That's why law enforcement uses canines to sniff out drugs, bombs, and fugitives.

Besides their noses, dogs have a special organ that helps them decipher scents called the vomeronasal organ. It's located between their nasal passage and the roof of their mouth. It picks up on body odors and pheromones, which are invisible chemicals animals release as a way of communicating with one another.

"Dogs sniff other dogs' rear ends and human crotches because sweat glands there release pheromones and scents that give canines information," Gerken says. "No one knows for sure what information is communicated through pheromones, but they may convey an individual's sex, age, emotions, and health."

Is It Normal Dog Behavior?

It's natural for dogs to sniff crotches—it's a form of communication and information gathering. In the canine world, sniffing is the primary way dogs learn about their environment and the people and animals in it. Think of it like this: A typical greeting between people is "Hi, how are you doing?" For a dog, a quick whiff from another dog's butt may be enough to know that Fido is feeling a little off today because he scarfed down his pet parent's burrito when she wasn't looking last night.

When Crotch-Sniffing Is a Red Flag

Although crotch-sniffing is a normal canine behavior, it may be a problem if it's excessive, Gerken says. Your dog may have learned that the behavior gets attention from people, whether that's positive reinforcement (getting pet or praised) or something undesirable (getting scolded). This explains why punishing your dog rarely achieves the desired result.

"An excessive drive to sniff people or their environments can be a sign of stress, frustration, or boredom, too," Gerken says. "Especially if dogs engage in other undesirable interactions with people, such as jumping on or mouthing people. If that's the case with your pet, talk to your veterinarian about the behavioral issues you're seeing."

Can You Train Your Dog to Stop Sniffing the Crotches of Your Guests?

There are multiple ways you can prevent your pooch from sniffing your guests' crotches (thank goodness!).

Training

The most common training technique is to teach dogs to target the palm of the hand instead of a person's crotch or bum. Dogs can still get interesting scents from a person's hand. To do this, says Gerken, follow these steps:

  1. Rub a smelly treat onto the palm of your hand.
  2. Hold your hand out to your dog. As soon as your dog's nose touches your palm, say "yes!" and reward the behavior with praise or drop a treat from the other hand.
  3. After your dog learns to touch the nose to the palm to get a treat, stop smearing the food on the palm and say "touch" before offering your outstretched palm.
  4. Keep repeating the exercise until your dog automatically puts his nose to your palm whenever you say "touch."

Avoidance

If your dog is still learning hand targeting, there are a few tricks you can use to still avoid the crotch-sniffing embarrassment. First, you can keep your dog on a leash away from incoming guests until they're settled in your home. You can also distract your dog when people approach by tossing treats on the ground.

Let Your Dog Sniff Elsewhere

Snuffling around is a stimulating activity for pups. And, says Gerken, exploring their environments through scent is a very important need for canines. So even if you want your furry pal to lay off the crotches, indulge your dog's desire to sniff in other ways.

"Let your dog sniff extensively on walks. You can also take scent work classes at local dog-training facilities," Gerken says. "Or try basic nose work at home by hiding a variety of foods around the yard or house, inside empty boxes, paper towel rolls, and empty food containers." If you give your dog lots of other sniffing opportunities, it might make it easier for your pooch not to stick his nose where it doesn't belong.