Dogs sure have their share of quirks. Some make our hearts melt with their splayed-out splooting and goofy doggy smiles. Other dog behaviour has us cringing with embarrassment and wondering why dogs hump or sniff other dogs’ butts. Even more awkward is this question: why do dogs sniff your crotch?
We’ve all been there: we’re saying hello to an adorable puppy when – boom! – its nose is in a place we’d rather it not be. Or just as embarrassing, we watch in horror as our dog’s smell-seeking missile gets up close and personal with someone’s crotch. Cute as a dog’s facial expression may be just before it goes for the goods, this isn’t a behaviour you really want to witness.
So why exactly do dogs do this, and can dog training help curb the behaviour? We talked to veterinarians and canine behaviour experts to find out.
Why do dogs sniff your crotch?
Dogs are curious by nature, and they use their noses to gather all kinds of intel on humans, animals and their environment. “For them, it’s a way of life,” says veterinarian Vernard Hodges. “Dogs have a phenomenal sense of smell, and that crotch sniff is just another tool they use to get to know us.”
But why do dogs sniff your crotch area specifically? Simply put, it’s the most accessible location for a dog. They detect pheromones, which are chemical signals produced by apocrine (sweat) glands located primarily in the groin and armpits of humans. Both areas of the body convey an abundance of information, such as your age, sex, mood and health issues, but the crotch just happens to be a lot easier for our four-legged friends to access than the armpit.
Still, the inner workings of the nose are quite impressive, thanks to Jacobson’s organ. It’s located on the roof of the mouth, with ducts that open to both the nose and the mouth, allowing for optimal sniffing abilities.
“Jacobson’s organ contains millions of special olfactory receptors, which capture odourants, allowing for enhanced scent detection,” says veterinarian Hilary Wheeler. “A dog’s nose is anywhere from 100,000 to 1 million times more sensitive than a human nose, but some breeds, such as Bloodhounds, have noses that are 10 to 100 million times more sensitive than ours.”
Can dogs smell pregnancy and other health issues?
Pregnancy-sniffing dogs probably won’t be replacing pregnancy tests anytime soon. “Dogs can’t smell pregnancy, per se. What they can smell is a change in our bodies that can be due to hormones,” says veterinarian Deianira Smith. “Pregnancy, or perhaps other health issues, can alter the smell of someone, so that may be the cause of the excessive sniffing in an area of the human body.”
Your dog doesn’t single out a particular health issue, but it does pick up on the change in pheromones and the change in odours that occur during ovulation, a monthly period, pregnancy and even recent childbirth. Still, a diagnosis-sniffing dog isn’t a far-fetched prospect. “There have been some isolated studies researching dogs’ ability to be trained to detect specific health conditions, including the imminent onset of a seizure, blood glucose or blood pressure changes, and the presence of certain types of cancer,” adds Dr Wheeler.