It’s one of the most embarrassing things dogs do. You’re standing there talking to someone, having a nice chat, when all of a sudden your dog pokes his nose in your friend’s crotch. Needless to say, your friend does not appreciate the familiarity. It’s not very pleasant when your dog does it to you, either. But why do dogs do it? What makes your dog, who sees you hours and hours a day, shove his nose where it doesn’t belong and try to take a good long whiff like he’s never seen you before?
Well, unlike humans, dogs rely on their keen sense of smell to tell them a great deal about the world. It’s estimated that dogs have 220 million sense receptors in their nostrils. Humans have a mere five million. They can tell a lot more about the world by smelling than we can. When a dog wants to really “know” something, instinct and experience have taught him to smell a thing.
Not only does your dog rely on his nose to know a thing, but canine social interaction teaches him that it’s polite to get to know other dogs from the rear first. If dogs meet face to face for the first time it can be dangerous. That’s where the teeth are. It’s wiser to take things slowly and meet head to tail. So dogs greeting each other for the first time sniff each other’s behinds. This is more than simply being polite. They can tell a lot of information about each other by smelling each other’s bottoms. A dog’s anal glands are located in the rear. Anal glands give off lots of scent for marking. By smelling this scent dogs can get an idea of the other dog’s age, health, sex, and other important information. They can tell things like his attitude and whether the other dog is hostile to him. This kind of dog behavior goes right back to their wolf ancestors and it’s very ingrained so it’s no wonder that dogs tend to use similar behavior when they meet other animals and people. They look for the smelliest part of other animals to get an idea of their status and intentions.
Thus, when dogs meet people they see no reason why they shouldn’t go for the crotch and check it out. Your dog is merely behaving the way he behaves around other animals and other dogs. People may not have anal glands but your dog is looking for a place on the body that does contain a high proportion of human scent glands. Your dog can tell a lot about a person by sniffing in such a personal place. It’s no reflection on the person and not any sign that the person is “smelly.” Your dog is just being a normal, nosy dog and looking for personal information. They say that curiosity killed the cat but dogs are probably even nosier. They don’t seem to believe that humans have any right to privacy. That’s why your dog can come up to you and sniff your crotch even though he has seen you all day. He’s just checking on you, making sure things haven’t changed since the last time he checked.
Of course, dogs don’t “have” to get so up close and personal to be able to tell a lot about you. It’s more of a bad habit. They are perfectly able to smell all they want about your personal parts from some distance away. You can teach your dog to give a more polite greeting (in human terms). You can teach your dog to sit when he starts to sniff you, or to sniff a hand instead of your crotch. However, you shouldn’t try to punish your dog for sniffing crotches. Your dog will probably be confused if you yell at him or punish him for doing something that seems so natural to him. Teaching him to do something more acceptable instead is usually a better approach. You can distract him with a noise, a squeaky, or a treat and start teaching him the substitute behavior.