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Why Do Dogs Sniff Butts?

April 17, 2018

Have you ever wondered why your dog is obsessed with sniffing another dog's butt? Well, what may seem disgusting to you with images of smelling stale dog poop is actually a very complex form of chemical communication. In providing an answer to this scientific quandary, the American Chemical Society* produced a short video entitled "Why Do Dogs Smell Each Other's Butts?" As it turns out, butt-sniffing at the local park is just one example of the chemical communication taking place throughout the animal kingdom. As a human, we are poorly equipped to distinguish between important scent molecules and the nasty smell of fresh poop.

On the other hand, dogs have a sense of smell that is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the human nose. In fact, your olfactory receptors occupy a space about the size of a postage stamp with somewhere around 5 million receptors. Sounds impressive, but a canine's membrane holds more than 225 million olfactory receptors. Okay, so why the butt? Well, the derrière is where the dog's anal sacs are located. These glandular pouches secrete chemicals that are more information-inclusive than any human's resume. Moreover, these chemical secretions are not overwhelmed by other butt odors. Therefore, it is important to allow your pet enough time for a proper meet and greet.

A similar vomeronasal system is also found in other animals, including mice, cows, cats, goats, pigs, giraffes and bears. The "sense of smell" receptor, known as the Jacobson's Organ (so called for Danish anatomist Ludvig Jacobson who first described them in 1813), are located inside your dog's nasal cavity and open into the upper part of the pet's mouth. It is believed that dogs can literally taste the air. This sensitive but very exact organ quickly provides fido with information about gender, reproductive status, overall health status, diet and emotional state. Packed with pheromones, this chemical communication process can lead to an immediate friendship with a joyful play-bow or a disinterested turning away.


*The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences.

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