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Understanding and Managing a Dog's Crotch-Sniffing Behavior

Dog Smelling
Dog Smelling

Dogs can find lots of ways to embarrass us with their behavior—from digging our underwear out of the hamper to display for guests to barking incessantly at neighbors slowly making their way along the sidewalk in front of our house. But no behavior is quite as awkward as when a dog greets a friend or stranger with an aggressive crotch sniff. Is your dog just ill-mannered? What information are they getting from smelling someone’s crotch?

Here’s an explanation of why dogs do this and whether you can do anything to stop the behavior.

Is It Normal for Dogs to Sniff Someone's Crotch?

It turns out that when dogs do this, they are just using their keenest sense, smell, to gather as much information as possible about their new friend. A dog’s superpower-level sense of smell explains why it is totally normal for dogs to want an extra-close smell of our nether regions. Dogs possess up to 125-250 million olfactory (scent) receptors in their noses, compared to about 5-6 million of those receptors in humans.

The part of a dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells (the olfactory cortex) is about 40 times greater than ours. Their sense of smell is powerful enough to detect substances at concentrations of one part per trillion—that’s a single drop of liquid in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools!

Part of this amazing ability comes from a second olfactory system in a dog’s nasal cavity called the vomeronasal organ (or Jacobson’s organ). This organ helps dogs pick up on scents that are not detectable to humans, such as the smell of their mother for a nursing pup or the pheromones of a female dog in heat. Dogs use their sense of smell to learn about the world around them and, like it or not, our crotches are a smorgasbord of scent.

Why Do Dogs Smell People's Crotches (Instead of Other Body Parts)?

While dogs are driven to smell everything around them, apocrine glands are to blame for their obsession with certain areas of our bodies. Apocrine glands are a type of sweat gland that, in humans, are found in areas with hair, predominately the armpits and groin.

These glands produce a high-protein sweat, and when it’s mixed with the natural bacteria on our skin, it creates body odor. Apocrine glands produce strongly scented sweat even when we’re clean, so it’s no surprise that a dog’s nose can pick up on the smell, especially in people they don’t live with every day.

Many people use deodorant and/or antiperspirant products to prevent odor in their armpits, which means dogs are more inclined to sniff the crotch area instead.

Is It the Same as Dogs Smelling Other Dogs' Crotches or Rear Ends?

While the highest concentration of human apocrine glands are in our groins and armpits, dogs have apocrine glands all over their bodies, thanks to their (comparatively) hairy skin. So, if these odor-producing glands exist everywhere on a dog, why do dogs go out of their way to smell another dog’s rear end?

The answer is found in two tiny sacs tucked into a dog’s rectum that you may know as anal glands. Anal glands produce a fetid-smelling substance that is expressed into the rectum each time a dog passes stool, but it can also be secreted during times of stress or excitement.

The odor of anal gland secretions is unique to every dog and can help dogs remember if they’ve met before. Even if they are old friends, the distinct smell of anal gland secretions can communicate important information, like where a dog has been and what they’ve been eating.

How to Prevent a Dog From Sniffing People's Crotches

One of the best ways to keep a dog from doing any unwanted behavior is to train them to perform another task instead. To keep your dog from being labeled a rude crotch sniffer, dog trainer Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA, suggests teaching your dog to “target” your fist. She says that targeting is one of the easiest tricks to teach because it uses a dog’s natural inclination to explore with their nose.

Schade recommends these steps:

  1. Present a Fist to Your Dog at Their Level: When they move toward it, reward the behavior with a dog-training clicker or by praising your dog with a word like “good!”

  2. Give Your Dog a High-Value Reward from the Other Hand: Work up to your dog actually touching their nose to your fist when you present it, and then attach a word to the behavior. You can use a word like “touch” or “target,” or get creative and use something like “bump it.”

Teaching your dog to target a fist is helpful in a crotch-sniffing situation because you can hold your fist in a number of positions around the body that keep your dog away from the groin area. Once your dog has mastered this behavior at home (with you and everyone in your household), teach them to respond to this request in public, as well. Enlist help from friends to get your dog to respond to the cue when meeting new people, too.

The more people and situations in which your dog learns to “bump it,” the less you have to worry about the embarrassment of having a crotch-sniffing canine!

Understanding the Dog's Sense of Smell

A dog’s sense of smell is an extraordinary tool that provides them with a wealth of information about their environment. To appreciate why dogs engage in behaviors such as crotch sniffing, it's essential to delve deeper into the complexities of their olfactory system.

Dogs have a sense of smell that is between 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than humans. This incredible capability is due to the vast number of olfactory receptors they possess. These receptors are responsible for detecting odors and sending signals to the brain for interpretation. The olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that processes smell, is proportionally 40 times larger in dogs than in humans.

Moreover, dogs possess the vomeronasal organ, which is specialized for detecting pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals released by animals that influence the behavior of other members of the same species. This organ plays a crucial role in communication, particularly in social and reproductive behaviors.

The Role of Pheromones

Pheromones are a significant aspect of why dogs are drawn to certain areas of the body. These chemical signals provide dogs with a plethora of information, such as the reproductive status of another dog, their mood, and even their health. In humans, pheromones are most concentrated in areas with dense hair growth, such as the armpits and groin. This explains why dogs are particularly interested in these regions.

The Science Behind Scent

The process of smelling involves air carrying odor molecules into the nasal cavity, where they bind to olfactory receptors. Each receptor is specialized to detect a specific type of molecule. When a molecule binds to a receptor, it triggers a signal that is sent to the olfactory bulb and then to various brain regions for processing.

Dogs also have an enhanced ability to differentiate between odors. They can distinguish between smells that are very similar, which is why they can track a specific scent over long distances or through a complex environment. This skill is used in various working dog roles, such as search and rescue, detection of drugs or explosives, and even medical detection, such as identifying certain types of cancer.

Training Alternatives to Crotch Sniffing

While understanding why dogs sniff crotches can help explain the behavior, many dog owners seek practical solutions to manage or redirect it. Training and redirection are effective methods to address this behavior.

Teaching Alternative Behaviors

One of the most effective strategies to manage unwanted behaviors in dogs is to teach alternative behaviors that are incompatible with the undesired action. For example, training a dog to sit or focus on their handler when greeting new people can prevent them from engaging in crotch sniffing.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in dog training. It involves rewarding a dog for exhibiting desired behaviors, which increases the likelihood of those behaviors being repeated. Rewards can be treats, praise, or play, depending on what motivates the dog the most.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement that uses a small device that makes a clicking sound to mark desired behaviors. The click is immediately followed by a reward. This method is effective because it provides clear and immediate feedback to the dog, helping them understand which behaviors are being rewarded.

Steps for Training

  1. Identify the Behavior: Determine the specific behavior you want to teach your dog. For example, teaching your dog to sit when greeting new people.

  2. Mark the Behavior: Use a clicker or a verbal marker (such as the word "yes") to mark the exact moment your dog performs the desired behavior.

  3. Reward the Behavior: Immediately follow the marker with a reward. Consistency is key to ensuring the dog associates the marker with the reward.

  4. Practice in Different Environments: Once your dog reliably performs the behavior at home, practice in different environments and with various distractions. This helps generalize the behavior so the dog can perform it in any situation.

  5. Increase Difficulty Gradually: Gradually increase the difficulty by adding more distractions or increasing the duration the dog must perform the behavior before receiving a reward.

Example: Teaching a Dog to Sit on Cue

Teaching a dog to sit on cue is a foundational behavior that can be used to manage many situations, including preventing crotch sniffing.

  1. Lure into Position: Hold a treat close to your dog's nose and slowly move it upward, causing their head to follow the treat and their rear to lower into a sitting position.

  2. Mark the Behavior: As soon as your dog’s rear touches the ground, use the clicker or verbal marker to mark the behavior.

  3. Reward the Behavior: Immediately give your dog the treat as a reward.

  4. Repeat and Add Cue: Repeat this process several times. Once your dog consistently sits when lured, add the verbal cue "sit" just before moving the treat.

  5. Fade the Lure: Gradually reduce the use of the treat lure, using only the verbal cue and hand signal to prompt the behavior.

  6. Practice with Distractions: Practice the behavior in different locations and with various distractions to ensure your dog can perform it reliably.

Understanding and Respecting Canine Behavior

While training and managing unwanted behaviors are important aspects of dog ownership, it’s equally important to understand and respect natural canine behaviors. Dogs communicate and interact with their environment primarily through their sense of smell. Recognizing this can help foster a better relationship between dogs and their owners.

The Role of Socialization

Socialization plays a crucial role in how dogs interact with people and other animals. Proper socialization involves exposing dogs to a variety of experiences, environments, and individuals in a positive and controlled manner. This helps dogs develop confidence and reduces fear or anxiety in new situations.

Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are techniques used to change a dog’s emotional response to a specific trigger. These methods can be particularly useful for dogs that exhibit fear or anxiety-related behaviors.

  1. Desensitization: Gradually exposing the dog to the trigger at a low intensity that does not provoke a strong reaction. Over time, the intensity is increased as the dog becomes more comfortable.

  2. Counter-Conditioning: Pairing the trigger with something positive, such as treats or play, to change the dog’s emotional response from negative to positive.

Building a Strong Bond

Building a strong bond with your dog is essential for effective training and a harmonious relationship. This bond is built through positive interactions, consistent training, and understanding your dog’s needs and behaviors.

Respecting Individual Differences

Just as humans have individual personalities, so do dogs. Some dogs may be more curious and inclined to sniff new people, while others may be more reserved. Understanding and respecting these individual differences is important for effective training and building a positive relationship.


Dogs’ behavior, including crotch sniffing, is rooted in their incredible sense of smell and natural instincts. While this behavior can be embarrassing, understanding why dogs engage in it and implementing positive training techniques can help manage and redirect it. Training, socialization, and building a strong bond with your dog are key components to addressing unwanted behaviors and fostering a positive relationship with your canine companion.

By using positive reinforcement and understanding the science behind a dog's sense of smell, you can guide your dog towards more appropriate behaviors while respecting their natural instincts. Whether it’s through teaching alternative behaviors, socialization, or simply appreciating the unique ways dogs experience the world, a thoughtful and informed approach can lead to a happier and more well-behaved pet.


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