If you're wondering why intact male dogs sniff so much, you likely own a male dog whose favorite hobby is just that- sniffing.
There is sniffing and sniffing in the dog world, therefore there can be several underlying causes at play.
The fact your dog is intact, can play a more relevant role into your dog's sniffing habits, although it's also true that all dogs love to sniff regardless of their hormonal status.
The Distraction of Smells
Most dogs are attracted by smells. Some dogs are so intent on smelling, that the world around them seems to fade away. Not even treats can sometimes get their attention and forget all about obedience cues, it's as if their brain has gone completely blank!.
This is not surprising though considering how powerful a dog's sense of smell is!
A dog's capacity for detecting odors has been reported to be as much as 10,000–100,000 times that of the average human. Read that again, quite impressive, no?
It can therefore be said that, although dogs interact with the world using all their senses, their sense of smell remains the most important one considering that it provides loads of information to the point of almost creating a three-dimensional image of the surrounding world.
Did you know? There is evidence that a dog's sense of smell is one of the first senses to become active and that puppies are capable of using their sense of smell even before they are born! Discover more about this here: when do puppies develop their sense of smell?
Semiochemical communication takes place when a certain substance is released by an individual and detection of such substance affects the behavior of other individuals on the receiving end.
Here is an example of semiochemical communication between intact female dogs and intact male dogs.
When a female is in heat, her urine becomes a source of compounds that are known for attracting male dogs.
Male dogs collect these compounds by licking the urine and then chattering their teeth which helps send these compounds to the vomeronasal organ through a special duct known as the "incisive papilla."
There is therefore no doubt that intact male dogs are interested in sniffing as their sniffing can help them find their "soulmates!"
Did you know? Humidity is a dog noses' best friend! Most likely due to odorant trapping along with the fact that humidity could be responsible for increased odor intensity.
Indeed, a study has revealed that increased mating was seen in dogs during monsoon season. Intrigued? Discover more here: 7 ways rain impacts dogs.
Other Relevant Information
On top of looking for a partner for reproductive purposes, an intact male dog, just as any other dog, will be interesting in smelling so to learn more about the environment.
In particular, they may be interested in smelling traces of prey animals, left over foods, and the waste of other dogs. In particular, the waste of other dogs may trigger intact male dogs to urine mark.
It is possible, that this tendency to smell and urine mark may be stronger in intact male dogs. Among studies on rats, testosterone has been proven to act as a hormonal enhancer of olfactory acuity (Pietras and Moulton, 1974).
Indeed, in neutered male dogs, the sniffing and marking behaviors tend to decline as testosterone levels decrease, although there is likely a learned component at play too. This explains why some dogs still urine mark despite being neutered!
An Overwhelming World to Explore
On the other hand, hormones aside, in dogs who feel compelled to smell everything on walks, there may be a component of anxiety at play.
It could be that these dogs haven't had the opportunity to experience the world around them, and that when they are taken outside, the are flooded with stimuli and can't focus.
This nervousness about the outside world may therefore lead to sniffing as a coping mechanism. Basically, the excessive sniffing may be a displacement behavior, or a simple way to calm themselves down.
Now That You Know...
As seen, intact male dogs have their own good reasons for sniffing so much! Now that you know several reasons, you may be wondering what you can do about it. Are you destined to a life of being dragged by your dog from one bush to another? Fortunately, there are several ways you can tackle the behavior.
- Try with high-value treats. On walks, try to distract your dog with high-value treats. Use them to reinforce desirable behaviors such as looking at you, heeling, hand targeting, sitting etc. Reinforce all non-sniffing behaviors.
- Start training in low distraction areas. For instance, start training your dog away from areas where dogs pee or walk on or areas where lots of prey animals frequent. For example, you can start in a boring industrial area.
- Put sniffing on cue. Many dogs think that walks are just for sniffing. You can train them to walk politely next to you, and then every now and then, you can reward him for focusing on you by pointing to an area and telling him to "go sniff." This is based on the Premack Principle.
- Let him calm his nerves. If your dog shows an intent to sniff the ground when he is in a new place, you may want to allow your dog to sniff rather than insist in making him pay attention to you. Once he has satisfied his curiosity and feels more comfortable and safe, he'll then be much more ready to be attentive to you.
- Help your dog habituate. If your dog is nervous in his surroundings, you can help him habituate by bringing something familiar in an unfamiliar environment. For instance, you can bring a mat along and on walks have him chill there with a tasty chew.
- Give your dog time. It takes time for dogs to get used to the big and often scary outdoor world.
- Create positive associations. If your dog appears fearful of something increase distance and feed treats upon noticing the trigger.
- Improve things. Aim to build confidence in your dog and create a relationship with your dog through positive training, clicker training, agility etc.
Will Neutering Help Decrease Sniffing?
Neutering has been often described as a "cure-all' for many behavior issues. There are chances that neutering can help alleviate sniffing for the purpose of finding a mate and urine marking, but it won't help with normal everyday sniffing most dogs enjoy doing.
Neutering will also be unlikely to help with dogs who are nervous about the world around them, especially considering that studies have revealed that neutered dogs may be prone to increased anxiety as testosterone has been associated with increased self confidence and reduced fearfulness (Terburg and van Honk, 2013)
Kokocińska-Kusiak A, Woszczyło M, Zybala M, Maciocha J, Barłowska K, Dzięcioł M. Canine Olfaction: Physiology, Behavior, and Possibilities for Practical Applications. Animals (Basel). 2021;11(8):2463. Published 2021 Aug 21. doi:10.3390/ani11082463
Woszczyło M, Jezierski T, Szumny A, Niżański W, Dzięcioł M. The Role of Urine in Semiochemical Communication between Females and Males of Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris) during Estrus. Animals (Basel). 2020;10(11):2112. Published 2020 Nov 13. doi:10.3390/ani10112112
Sen Majumder S, Bhadra A. When love is in the air: understanding why dogs tend to mate when it rains. PLoS One (2015) 10:e0143501. 10.1371/journal.pone.0143501