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The importance of Sniffing in Dogs

Updated on July 5, 2009

Sniffing may be a calming signal

Every dog owner knows that the act of sniffing plays a major role in their dog's lives. It could be your dog is simply sniffing that great apple pie you have in the oven or perhaps he is tracking some other's dog smell left on your lawn.

Dogs detect all sort of smells in their everyday lives. To us humans, sniffing may appear like an odd behavior, but if we think of it, dogs have 25 times more olfactory receptors than we do, therefore, life around them is surely quite interesting!

Indeed, it could be said that dogs live with their noses. From the day they are born, dogs will learn to rely on their noses more than any other sense. When a puppy is born, after all, it is a blind, deaf and vulnerable creature that will use its nose as a primary tool to find their way to the source of milk. They will also learn to recognize their mom and litter mates through scent. Then, days later, when they open their eyes and a new world unveils before them, they will learn to combine scent with other tools such as vision and hearing.

As the puppy grows, it learns to use its sense of smell to learn about the environment surrounding him. During the socialization process he will particularly be interested in identifying each person's or dog's scent and therefore, the first thing he will do is smell people and other dogs in order to derive important information.

When a dog sniffs another dog's behind he is able to derive a lot of useful information: what the dog eats, its level of energy, his health status, his age, his sex and much more. A well socialized dog will stay still so that the other dog can sniff. A dog that moves away, growls or makes it difficult for the other dog to sniff, is generally not very social and may have a hard time to get along with other dogs.

What the dog is looking for in particular, upon sniffing a dog's behind, is the dog's anal glands. Anal glands are two glands found around the dog's rectum found approximately at the four o' clock and eight o'clock position around the rectum.

When people say that a dog ''can sniff fear'' at a veterinary hospital, this is a true statement. Indeed, dogs are able to detect the scent of anal glands. When dogs are under stress often their anal glands are open, releasing a specific scent that other dogs are able detect. This teaches other dogs that the place should be avoided.

Upon meeting humans, however, most dogs will sniff the hand. If you are meeting a new dog for the first time allow the dog to sniff your hand first. Do not disturb the dog during this process as this is a very critical part of socialization. Preferably, do not look the dog directly in the eyes, do not talk to the dog and do not touch the dog as of yet. Watch the dog sniff you and see what conclusions he gets from you. He may accept you and leave, he may decide to be your best friend or he may even growl at you.

According to an article about calming signals by Turi Rugaass, sniffing is also a calming signal. Dogs may resort to sniffing the ground in stressful situations or to calm other dogs down. A puppy meeting a new dog for the first time, may sniff the ground, to show he is non threatening.

The powerful noses dogs are equipped with have been found to be extremely helpful to humankind. Simply think of search and rescue dogs, bomb detecting dogs and possibly soon, dogs that may detect cancer or even a seizure before it arises!  It is amazing what dogs are able to detect, and as humans we should be appreciative of these great qualities. So next time you are walking your dog, give your dog a small break and tell him ''go sniff''. He will surely be appreciative of ''reading the headlines'' of what is going on in yuor neighborhood. There is so much information he can gain. A dog's nose certainly knows!

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    • ocbill profile image

      ocbill 

      9 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      LOL, our dog sniffs like a velociraptor under the door before breakfast time.

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