4 min read


Why Dogs Sniff Strangers



4 min read


Why Dogs Sniff Strangers




When your dog greets another dog, it is all good and well for the two dogs to go about sniffing each other’s behinds. After all, this common dog greeting has been standard behavior in dogs since their ancestors lived and survived in the wild. The ritual of sniffing establishes dominance, communicates mood, and is often the first step to friendship in the dog world.

When this behavior gets translated from dog to human, especially to strangers, the situation can get uncomfortable. Not many people appreciate being sniffed, especially in the regions that dogs tend to go for when sniffing around. If you have ever been put into an uncomfortable situation by your innocently sniffing dog, here are some things you should know about your dog’s strange fascination with strangers.

The Root of the Behavior

Each and every dog emits a unique smell, a personal scent that lets other dogs know various points of personal information about the scent’s owner. The scent comes from glands located beneath the base of tail. This is the reason that two dogs meeting for the first time will take turns sniffing each other’s rear ends. They are simply gathering information about one another. Dogs do not know to shake hands or ask strangers simple, identifying questions about themselves and what they like. Instead, when meeting strangers, they rely on instinct. Unfortunately, that instinct typically leads them to sniff areas of a human being that most people do not like investigated.

Although human scents do not translate the same way dog scents do, a dog can still gain a lot of information about a person through sniffing their private regions. Pheromones and smells that are all but invisible to the human nose are louder and much clearer to dogs. Some dogs are able to recognize pheromones associated with fear, ovulation, and even a person’s mood. The extent of a dog’s ability to learn information about humans through their scent is still being explored. Some believe that dogs are potentially capable of identifying cancer before conventional testing, but again, these are as of yet just hypotheses. What we do know is that while often unwanted, a dog’s natural reaction to approaching a stranger is to greet them the way that only a dog knows how.

You may notice that your dog does not sniff at you, or perhaps your dog only smells you every once in a long while. In most cases, any strong or clear negative reaction you have had in the past to having your private regions perused by your dog is lesson enough for your dog to learn not to do it. They may still sniff you every once in a while, especially if something stressful is going on. More often than not, dogs do not sniff their owners. They are more interested in new visitors or guests, who they have not met before or seen in a long while. 

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Encouraging the Behavior

If your dog has a habit of sniffing strangers in places that they aren’t comfortable with, you may need to train the behavior out of them. It often isn’t enough to call a dog back every time someone new comes over, and owners can quickly become tired of this practice. Some dogs express more curiosity than others, and in general, the friendlier your dog, the more likely it is to go up to people and express its friendliness in an uncomfortable way. Redirecting a dog’s sniffing behavior can be as simple as commanding your dog to sit in a certain part of the room when a new person walks in, then reward them for staying put. You can also give treats to strangers as they walk in, giving your dog something else to focus on.

If you notice that you are being sniffed by strangers’ dogs in areas that you don’t feel comfortable with, it is possible that you are giving the dog a social cue that you didn’t intend to. Don’t back up when approaching a strange dog, as this gives the dog the feeling that you are showing submission. Instead, be forward with dogs and approach them confidently. This approach lets the dog know that you are the dominant one. According to dog codes, this gives you the right to sniff first, which for you often means no worries about being sniffed inappropriately. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

Sometimes, your dog’s inappropriate behavior can land you in a particularly bad situation. There have been recorded cases of dogs whose inappropriate behavior have gotten their owners into altercations, and even legal troubles. While you cannot be held legally responsible for your dog’s behavior, you are still partially responsible for your dog’s actions that same way that you are responsible for picking up their poop from public places. Try and anticipate your dog’s actions when it comes to strangers, especially, and find ways to either distract or redirect your dog’s behavior before your dog barks up the wrong tree.


Humans can’t expect dogs to carry themselves to all the exact same standards as humans, but there are some things that a dog should learn not to do. Whether the issue is personal privacy, or your dog goes after someone who is simply afraid of dogs, it’s always a good idea to establish that the greeting is welcome on both sides. Just remember that if your dog gets a little too nosey at times, a good treat is a good distraction. 

Written by a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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