It's a classic scenario: You're doing something cool, like washing your car in a sexy way. Suddenly, your crush walks by. Everything is going great. But then it happens. Your pooch runs up and sticks her nose in your crotch. Or worse, your crush's crotch.
Why, why, why would your dog do this to you?
Why do dogs sniff crotches?
Believe it or not, your dog isn't trying to embarrass you. They're simply on a lifelong quest for information, and they're gathering this information mostly by smell.
A dog's sense of smell makes our human sense of smell look like a pathetic joke. Dogs have approximately 220 million olfactory sensors in their noses, compared to 5 million in humans. They also have a special organ called the Jacobson's organ, also called the vomeronasal organ, a specialized patch of sensory cells in their main nasal chamber that detects moisture-born odor particles. In a word, dogs are born to smell.
An excellent sense of smell
Dogs use their excellent noses as their primary method of gathering information about the world, and they can smell things we can't pick up on (at least, not on a conscious level). Namely, pheromones.
Pheromones are a chemical substance that humans and other animals release into the air. Pheromones are the reason why dogs sniff other dogs' butts: They're gathering information on the other dog's age, sex, emotional state, and more.
Alexandra Horowitz, author and head of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard, explains in the video below how dogs "see" with their noses. Unlike us humans, who rely heavily on our sense of sight, dogs rely on their noses as a primary sense to understand the world around them.
Pheromones are the reason why dogs sniff our crotches (and our butts and armpits, too). They might also be the reason your dog steals your underwear. We have higher concentrations of pheromones in our genital and anal areas than any other part of our body, which makes them rich sources of information for our canine friends. The more body odors we give off, the more curious our dogs become, as there's a lot of information to be had. Some dogs also tend to sniff human armpits for the same reason — the sweat glands located there give off more pheromones for them to suss out.
You may also notice that your dog gets extra sniffy around your genital area when you've just had sexual intercourse, or when you're on your period (if you are someone who menstruates). That's because we emit more pheromones during sex as well as during menstruation. There's even some evidence that dogs can detect ovulation, and they can also sniff out ovarian cancer.
Can I train my dog out of sniffing crotches?
The answer is: kind of. As embarrassing as it may feel for pet parents, smelling people's crotches is a normal behavior. They don't know that we have arbitrary politeness-based rules around sticking your nose in someone's private parts.
With that in mind, you can use positive reinforcement dog training to give your dog an "incompatible behavior" they can do instead of sniffing a guest's groin area. An incompatible behavior is a behavior that "interferes with other behaviors," in the words of the Karen Pryor Academy.
Teaching an incompatible behavior might mean teaching your dog to sit instead of jump up on guests, or lie on their mat instead of hover in the kitchen when you cook. Incompatible behaviors for crotch-sniffing will be something that busies your dog's nose in a place other than a human body. You can scatter treats on the floor and say "find it!", or teach them to target the guest's hand (or your hand) with the cue "touch."
You can also make it easy on yourself and just give your dog a snuffle toy when guests come over. A dog who is snuffling for treats cannot simultaneously be sniffing body parts!
Remember, never punish a dog for sniffing crotches (or for anything else). It won't work, and it will damage your relationship with your dog. Instead, call in a qualified, certified dog trainer to help you!
Dogs don't sniff human crotches to embarrass us, but rather to sniff out pheromones that give them information. Dogs use their noses to perceive the world around them, which is why they are always sniffing! You can use training to teach your dog an incompatible behavior when you have guests over, or you can give them a snuffle mat or toy to keep their nose busy during such moments.
So if you overhear someone accuse a dog of being rude for sniffing their nether regions, politely inform them that the dog isn't trying to embarrass them, they are simply on a lifelong quest for information.