Ever wonder why your dog is like a tractor beam to another dog’s behind when they meet on your walks? Ever been embarrassed by what appears to be a circling proctology exam between your dog and others at the park? Curious WHY dogs sniff butts during greetings?
Though it may appear rude and gross to us humans, a butt sniff between dogs — when executed appropriately — is actually a very friendly and proper communicative signal! I equate a butt sniff between dogs, to a friendly handshake between strangers. It is simply a unique way the canine species communicates.
Part of a greeting ritual, sniffing the rump allows dogs to gain a ton of olfactory information about the new dog, all without making offensive eye contact. Most dog fights I see are preceded by direct eye contact, so sniffing the back end is great way for dogs to get to know one another, without challenging the other with that offensive stare. The scent they obtain from this butt sniff can be incredibly helpful, telling the dog all sort of information about their new friend, such as their gender or sexual readiness. With such powerful sniffers, some dogs can even sense when a dog is ill, simply by taking a whiff of the other pup’s nether regions.
Despite that a butt sniff is supposed to be a polite greeting behavior amongst dogs, there are many out there who do not know HOW to do so appropriately. Have you ever just met someone at a party who shared too much personal information with you too soon? Perhaps they are a “close talker” or invaded your personal space by hugging you too long. Similarly, dogs don’t always execute their buff sniffs in the best manner…
Some dogs have developed a conditioned response to be more sensitive about others sniffing “back there”, whether it be due to past traumatic experience, anxiety, or under-socialization. Many of my dog training clients have pooches who will get defensive, aggressive, or nervous about another dog approaching their back end. So just because sniffing a tuckus is normal and healthy communication between pups, doesn’t mean it is a kosher move for ALL dogs! Therefore, I make a point to teach all my dog training clients to only allow it to happen for a few moments, then initiate a break for the dogs (perhaps by stepping between the dogs with a body block, or quickly re-directing the dogs to something else). This allows the dogs just enough time to get the “information” they need, without causing a potential altercation.
Watch the body language of the dogs involved in a butt sniffing greeting. All parties should be neutral and relaxed, allowing a polite distance from one another. If your dog is being a bully, a butt sniff will look more like a proctology exam! This is commonly seen as a pre-mounting behavior, and this personal space violation can quickly escalate. If you notice the other dog fleeing the scene with a tucked tail, this is a huge red flag to initiate a break between the dogs, and save the retreating dog. Re-direct your pooch away from them instantly, and give the other dog plenty of space.
The moral of the story is that butt sniffs are normal for dogs, but it’s essential to recognize and encourage friendly “handshakes” amongst them, and discourage inappropriate and pushy ones. Happy tails to you!