Why is it that every time your dog passes a fellow canine on a walk they insist on conducting a full bottom inspection? If you don’t know the other owner it can often lead to awkward small talk or averted gazes while waiting for them to finish. However, there’s no need for embarrassment as bottom sniffing is a standard doggie greeting and it’s amazing what you can find under a dog’s tail!
The science bit
Before we get on to the important information a dog can pick up from bottom sniffing, we need to understand what makes their noses such important tools. Unlike humans, who generally navigate the world through sight, dogs are led by their amazing noses – which contain up to 300 million scent receptors compared to our measly 5 million. All these extra receptors mean more smelling power. In fact, it has been estimated that dogs are between 1,000 and 10,000 times better than us at identifying smells.
Dogs noses learn the world
So, dogs learn about the world through their noses but what is it about the bottom in particular that is so appealing? Bottom sniffing is the most effective way for a dog to find out as much information about another dog as possible in a short space of time. It’s a standard form of greeting – just like humans shaking hands – but while we can only make speculations about a person based on the firmness of their grip, a dog can ascertain their companion’s age, sex, health condition, mood, diet and whether they’ve met before. Located inside a dog’s rectum are two small glands called anal sacs. These secrete chemicals with a unique odour signature that can identify a dog and supply lots of biological information about them. It is actually these glands that a dog is picking up the scent of and, while there are other glands in the body that could give the same information, the bottom is almost always the most easily accessible.
Bottom sniffing status
Bottom sniffing is used as a way of determining who’s ‘top dog’ too and will set the foundation for a future relationship. The dominant dog will always go first while the submissive dog will wait their turn to reciprocate. In the same way that we may not like to give away too much about ourselves on a first meeting, dogs can limit the information they share by sitting down or tucking their tail between their legs if they feel the other dog has learned enough about them.
Dominance in smell
The canine scent memory is incredible and dogs can tell if they’ve met before – even years later – and remember which one of them was the dominant one. They can also smell fear from other dogs, even if they’ve already left a room. This is why dogs are normally happy to go to the vet but as soon as they enter the waiting room become suddenly anxious or scared.
Too close for comfort for people?
It’s not just dogs that have glands giving off identifying scents – we do too, but our noses lack the sufficient capacity to be able to extract the same level of information that dogs can from each other. We have scent glands in our armpits and crotch region – which is why some dogs just can’t help giving new people unwanted attention in the groin area. Now, that is embarrassing!
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