Just like humans, every dog has its own personality and a set of quirks that come with it. Whether it be circling around the dog bed for ages to get the perfect angle to lay in, hopping into an empty bathtub and barking for help to get rescued, or having an unreasonable fear of their own farts. Smelling their owners' clothes is another more commonly shared habit that can be seen in almost all dogs. But is there a basis for our pooches’ garment whiffing obsession and why does it seem that all dogs universally enjoy the activity so much? What are our furry best friends trying to uncover when they snuff us out?
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The Root of the Behavior
It is no secret that dogs have a far more advanced sense of smell than humans do. For us, different scents can bring about old memories, trigger positive or negative associations, let us know when something is spoiled, or do the complete opposite and make food so much more appealing. This is not surprising as even though we don’t compare to the Olympic sniffers that our canines are, our sense of smell still greatly affects our taste and experience of a meal. Though that does seem like a lot of attributes for the nose of our four-legged family members, it is so much more. A dog’s superb sense of smell is not only his primary way of communication but it is also how he interprets the world.
Needless to say, one of the main reasons dogs smell your clothes after you have been away from home all day is to get an insight into your day. Dogs are curious creatures and what your clothing smells like can reveal a lot of information to your canine companion. Just by taking a few whiffs a dog can find out where you went, who you met with, what you ate, and how you feel. That kind of information is incredibly valuable to them as it is how dogs communicate. Similarly, dogs smell trees and other dogs’ urine to find out things like their age, sex, diet, and mood and mark their territory with their own messages and information. Smelling your clothes is your dog’s way of asking “Hey, how was your day? Tell me about it.” It is also their way of experiencing the world vicariously and letting your dog smell you thoroughly facilitates that sensory experience.
Another major reason dogs smell their owners’ clothes is because they find the smell comforting. Dogs love their owners and anything that smells like their pet parents makes them feel content and calm. Many dogs will not only smell but lay on their owners' clothing when they are away at work to uplift themselves or to deal with the separation anxiety they might have. Even if your dog is used to your absences or if you work from home - some dogs just really enjoy smelling the familiar smell that can be found on their owners' clothing because for them it is a pleasant way to pass the time.
Encouraging the Behavior
Since dogs use their sense of smell to communicate, gather information, and see the world dog owners shouldn’t be discouraging their sniffing behavior. As gross as it may seem to you to let your dog stick his nose in a bush that is a popular bathroom stop for dogs in the neighborhood and as tempting as it to tighten the leash and scold him “no,” you should not discourage him.
Though the urine odor is definitely not something pleasant for humans to smell, it can be both informative and euphoric to dogs. It is how they catch up with other dogs and learn what they have been up to. Smelling the ground and different objects along the way, in general, is important for our furry friends to experience their surroundings. Lots of dog owners take their canines on long walks only to jerk the leash anytime their nose lands close to a mark left by another dog. This sort of discouragement confuses your dog since it is in their nature and instinct to smell everything around them and explore the world through their nostrils, which can also weaken your bond. Restricting your dog from investigating the scents he comes across blindfolds him from seeing the world fully.
Similarly, if your dog wants to smell your clothes when he greets you back home, you should let him. It will make you closer, allow him to get a sneak peek into your day, and lets him have a nice sensory experience. Plus, your pooch loves the way you smell so let him enjoy your natural odors!
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs need human interaction to remain both healthy and happy. They get bored when they spend most of their days alone waiting for their owners to come back home and spend time with them. Smelling their clothes helps them feel better during the wait as it reminds them of their pet parents, keeps the boredom at bay, and provides them with some comfort. Given the above, dog owners should be more understanding when they come home to their excited four-legged family members who have clearly gone through every single article of clothing in the laundry room in their absence.
Though it is completely normal and common for dogs to smell your clothes, dogs who regularly roll in their owners' clothing or show obsessive attachment to it may have separation anxiety. Though having a familiar article of clothing like their owners sock in their doggy bed can comfort them and help them feel more at ease, it is not enough to combat the anxiety. Consult a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer to help better understand your dog's behavior and ease his stress when you’re away.
Dogs are superior smellers who will always be stoked to sniff out new information from their owners' clothing as soon as they greet them by the door. The instinctual urge to sniff is how they experience the world around them, whether it be smelling something new or something old and familiar. Allowing your pooch to investigate your clothes with his nose will not only bring you two closer but it will also comfort him when you’re away and make him feel less lonely.