Dogs smell people's privates for a simple fact: because it's an odoriferous place. Just like sniffing pee, sniffing poop and sniffing other dogs' butts, it just one of those things dogs do which may often embarrass dog owners.
Some days, you may feel like hiding behind a bush or claiming that that rude dog is not yours. "Who him? Oh, he's just a stray who happened to follow me around" you say as you're blushing. "Ah really? And how come he has your phone number on his tag?"
Jokes aside, yes, many dog owners are embarrassed by Rover's sniffing obsession and are wondering what they can do about it.
The Perks of Living With a Nose
Dogs live in a world of smells and their sense of smell is amazing. As visual beings, who rely most on the sense of smell, us humans, might never fully grasp how the world must feel from a dog's perspective.
Because dogs use their noses as means for exploring the world and gaining more information about their surroundings, and because dogs do not adhere to the same social etiquette as humans do, their behaviors may appear often odd, quirky and sometimes even rude from a human perspective.
For example, what's up with dogs who are fixated on smelling pee and poop left behind from dogs or other animals? Turns out, dogs gain a lot of information this way.
Urine and stools in the dog world are like business cards. They provide dogs with information about other dogs such as their age, health, reproductive status, mood, and possibly, even what they ate earlier for lunch.
Dogs purposely leave urine around (a practice known as urine marking) for other dogs to sniff. Their preferred areas for depositing urine are vertical surfaces which act as bulletin boards allowing dogs to puts their "business cards" right at other dogs' nose level for easy "reading."
Favorite areas are the classical fire hydrant, lamp post and mailbox posts. You'll also notice dogs peeing on car tires too!
And what about dogs sniffing other dog's butts? Dogs secrete pheromones from special glands under their tails, and particularly, as dogs are wagging their tails, these pheromones are spread out. Sniffing butts is therefore the canine equivalent of swapping business cards.
On top of this, sniffing butts puts dogs on a non-adversarial level. With the head and teeth at the opposite end, dogs don't have to worry too much about putting themselves in overly threatening situations.
Interestingly, the human handshake is believed to be non-adversarial as well. According to History.com, by extending an empty right hand, strangers showed they didn't bear arms and therefore had no ill will toward one another.
But why do dogs smell peoples' privates? We are not dogs, and as such, we do not have tails or special glands down there, so what's up with dogs fixated on sniffing these private areas? Once again, to better understand this behavior, we must put ourselves into our dogs' shoes, ehm.. "paws."
So Why Do Dogs Smell People's Privates?
With powerful noses capable of finding truffles, detecting drug and explosives, uncovering bed bugs and even medical conditions such as cancer, it's not surprising why dogs wish to sniff people upon meeting them, but why, oh why, do they have to smell private places?
Well, for starters, private areas are right at a dog's nose level. It's not a dog's fault if we happen to have our private areas right at the ideal nose-height of many medium and large dogs (with small dogs this is fortunately not an issue).
And then there are odors. Every human gives off an individual odor. Dogs are attracted to the most odoriferous body parts and private parts offer dogs a lot of information because scents down there tend to be more concentrated compared to other body parts.
The "Apocrine Attraction"
Stanley Coren, in the book "Do Dogs Dream?: Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know," explains that dogs are especially attracted to smell people's privates because the groin area, along with the armpits, is a body part that is rich with apocrine glands.
Apocrine glands are glands that secrete sweat and they are typically found in hairy places. Because apocrine glands are scent glands, their secretions usually have an odor. Dogs are certainly interested in the pot-pourri of odors emanating from this area.
Dogs are therefore attracted to sniffing private areas in humans just as they are attracted to sniffing dog butts and their genital regions.
"We all know that dogs have a tendency to stick their noses into human groins, much to our own embarrassment. Groining dogs are not perverts; they’re detectives. A human’s groin is a cocktail of interesting and information-rich odors." ~Marc Bekoff, Jessica Pierce, Unleashing Your Dog, A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs don't plan to be rude by smelling crotches, they are just doing what dogs instinctively do: sniff. It's totally natural for dogs to want to sniff guests even if that means sniffing crotches. A dog sniffing people's private parts is the canine equivalent of people saying: "Hello, what's your name?"
There is therefore no need to punish the behavior. Punishing a dog for a natural behavior such as sniffing may only lead to confusion and potential negative repercussions such as associating people with negative things (being scolded) which may pave the path to shyness, or in worst case scenarios, even aggression.
So what can you do to prevent your dog from putting you in embarrassing situations? Dogs do best when they are trained what to do versus being told what not to do, so training an alternate behavior may therefore turn handy. Here are some options:
- Use a squeaky toy or a treat to lure your dog from inappropriate sniffing.
- Ask your guests to sit down and let your dog meet them when they are sitting. This should lower the chance for inappropriate sniffing.
- Give your guests some treats and tell them to ask your dog to sit so to keep his focus off sniffing. When your dog sits, tell them to praise and give a treat.
- Train your dog to target your hands so that you can redirect him to another activity.
- For persistent sniffers, you can tell your guests to turn around the moment the dog sniffs inappropriately and then turn back again and offer their hand to sniff instead. Praise and reward your dog for sniffing hands.
- And you can always train your dog to "go to his mat" if he's a bit too exuberant or intrusive in his greetings.