Dog Behavior Series: Sniffing

Dog Behavior Series: Sniffing

Join us for a month-long series of understanding dog behavior!

First up, sniffing

If you’ve spent any time around dogs, it’s clear that they LOVE to sniff. They’re really good at it too. Dogs have some of the most powerful smelling organs in the world. From food, to drugs, to diseases, dogs can sniff out just about anything. However, their “nosiness” can be a great source of frustration and embarrassment for dog owners. With this first blog in our dog behaviors series, we’ve researched the biological basis of sniffing behaviors and how to handle an “excessive” sniffer.

Biology of Sniffing

Dog’s were born to sniff. Evolution has perfected their sniffing capabilities over thousands of years. The canine brain has a specialized smell processing area that is 40 times larger than in the human brain! In addition, they have 45 times the number of smell receptors that humans have. All of this means that dogs have nearly 1000 times the smelling power than humans. It’s no wonder why they spend so much of their time sniffing around!

Sniffing behavioral patterns

Other than just smelling around for food, dogs sniff for a number of behavioral reasons.

  • Nervousness: Sniffing the air and pacing around may indicate that your dog is feeling nervous. They may have heard or seen a strange animal or person and are trying to sniff out their identity.

  • Investigation: One of the main behavioral reasons for sniffing is simply investigation. Because their sense of smell is so powerful, their noses are their way to “read” the world around them. If your dog is sniffing around the room, it could be that they’re trying to find the source of the smell.

  • Avoidance: Dogs sometimes use their nose as a way to avoid unwanted situations. For example, if you take your dog on a walk and they see a strange person, they may start sniffing the ground until they have passed.

  • Stress: Increased sniffing is also an indicator of stress in dogs. Similar to avoidance, dogs use sniffing as a way to distract themselves from a potentially stressful situation. In highly stressful situations they may also exhibit symptoms like yawning, lip licking, shaking, stretching, freezing, refusing to eat, having sweaty paws, and excessive shedding. If this is the case, you may want to remove your dog from the stressor.

Excessive Sniffing

Unfortunately, dogs can get a little too excessive with their noses. Owners can start to find walking their dogs a terrible chore when their dog has to stop and sniff every inch of grass. In this situation it’s up to the human to set down some rules. Allow them to satisfy their sniffing needs (up to a point) and then give a command to move on. Some dogs can get a little too eager to sniff other people. This can be quite embarrassing for their owners when guests come in and get greeted with a dog snout in some “personal” areas. To work on eliminating this habit, start by putting your dog on the leash when a guest enters the house. Allow the dog to sniff the guest’s hand to greet them and then reward them for their calm behavior. As your dog progresses, try taking them off the leash and see if they will calmly greet on their own.

Keep an eye out for the next blog in our dog behavior series! As dog owners and lovers, it’s important to know how to read and understand their behavior. Only by learning their way of communicating will we establish harmonious and long-lasting relationships with our furry family members!

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4 Comments

  1. Cynthia Estep

    I have been having problems since my fur baby was a year old I have to leave her on a leash until it’s bedtime as she will not come to me she wants to run and run and run I’m 71 and it’s very hard to catch her. Sometimes I play Dead and it’s at least 15 or 20 minutes before she comes and lays her head on me and then I can catch her. With the leash, I just step on it and then she will let me pick her up. I try to play at least 15 minutes with her playing with her favorite toy.. Either once or twice a day.. We also play hide and seek..

    Reply
  2. nancy hevel

    my 12 week puppy sniffs al over the house when ever sh is out of cage we play with her a lot but soon as we stop she back sniffing she also runs around all the time is there any way to help wih that

    Reply
  3. Katelyn C.

    Stress: Increased sniffing is also an indicator of stress in dogs. Similar to avoidance, dogs use sniffing as a way to distract themselves from a potentially stressful situation. In highly stressful situations they may also exhibit symptoms like yawning, lip licking, shaking, stretching, freezing, refusing to eat, having sweaty paws, and excessive shedding. If this is the case, you may want to remove your dog from the stressor. (Umm so u want me to get away from my dog or something because when I get close to my dog she starts smelling me and while shaking and refusing to eat, I am sorry but I just don’t know if there is something wrong with me or my dog.

    Reply
  4. Nicolle Newson

    Hi,
    My dog – Maltese heard a very high pitched sound. Now constantly in a loop of sniffing either side of his own front paws.
    It’s like he is trying to find a smell or addicted to a smell.
    Can you help as we are lost and I think he is sending himself crazy. I have a video.

    Reply

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