Does your dog seem to have his face always in people’s crotches? Embarrassing, isn’t it? Well, don’t be too embarrassed. Dogs see the world with a different sense than we do. In addition to sight and sound, they depend on their sense of smell dramatically more than humans. When they approach you in this way, they are not just being a “space invader”. They are trying to gain information about the person through a scent inspection. To a dog, the private areas are like a name tag or even a business card with more information about an individual. If you watch dogs interact with each other, they often start by sniffing each other’s rears.
Dogs have glands on either side of their rectum. These glands produce a strong smelling discharge that seems to serve no other purpose aside from serving as a name tag for your dog. They identify him to other dogs and tag his feces as belonging to him. He can carry and leave his mark with these secretions and sees no reason that you would not do the same, only you stand upright and so your scents are in a slightly different location for him to access.
As a non-verbal species, sniffing you in such a way is akin to shaking your hand and asking your name and where you live. We, humans, are not scent markers, but we do write our names on our own stuff with permanent markers to label it as ours. We define our properties with maps and surveyors and we know what it means to stake a claim. You would not allow a stranger into your home without getting some basic information from him or her. Your dog is doing the same thing. It’s just that his method of background check does not agree with our human cultural norms.
If your dog’s curiosity is embarrassing you, you can try to redirect his behavior. When new people come into the room or environment, plan ahead and ask your dog to sit. Then reward his sitting until the new person has been able to sit down or settle into the room. Stash treats in your pockets or a pouch on your hip, so his nose is drawn elsewhere. Give some of the treats to any new person that comes into the environment, so they can offer them too and keep the dog focused on their hands instead.
Dogs are dogs, even though they have adapted tremendously to live and thrive with us. Some things are just “dog things” and we have to realize that we are the ones that need to adapt!
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