Why Do Dogs Sniff Everything?

Image of a brown and white dog sniffing grass

Why Do Dogs Sniff Everything?

There are probably countless things your dog does daily that bring a smile to your face, like the excitement they show every time you come home or the cute way they tilt their head when you’re talking to them. But there are also probably times when your pup’s actions leave you scratching your head, like when they chase their tail, roll in poop, or dig up the yard. Since many pet parents are curious about these and other dog behaviors, Wagsworth is launching a new blog series that we hope helps answer questions you may have about why your dog does the things they do. We start with exploring why dogs sniff everything from the air to their business to your feet.

How good is a dog’s sense of smell?

Stopping to smell the roses is one thing, but many pet parents find that their dog has to smell just about everything they come across. Is this normal behavior? Absolutely, and there is a completely reasonable explanation for it. Smell is actually a dog’s primary sense, and they rely on their powerful noses to navigate the world around them. This is true from the moment they are born—before they even open their eyes, a newborn puppy’s sense of smell is already well developed.

Just how good is your dog’s sense of smell? For starters, it puts yours to shame—in fact, it may be as much as 100,000 times stronger. One reason your dog’s sense of smell is typically so much better than yours is because they have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose, versus your relatively meager 6 million. In addition, dogs have a special organ on the roof of their mouth that is sometimes called the “second nose,” and this organ allows them to pick up scents that you can’t.

Another reason your dog’s sniffer is so sensitive is because your pup can use both of their nostrils independently. What does having this special nose feel like for your dog? The best way to understand it is to think about what it’s like when you listen to music with your surround-sound system or watch a movie in 3-D. It’s much more exciting than just having basic smell, that’s for sure!

Now that you know just how strong your dog’s sense of smell is, let’s explore some of the most common things they often like to sniff, and why these odors might be so appealing to them.

Why does my dog sniff the air?

You’re on a brisk walk with your pup, when, for no apparent reason, they stop short and start sniffing the air like crazy. What’s got their attention? Because your dog’s sense of smell is so much stronger than yours, it’s not unusual for them to pick up on an aroma, even if it’s blocks away, well before you do. Whether it’s the wonderfully pleasant smell of hamburgers on the grill or the pungent odor of burning leaves, your dog may have gotten a slight whiff of it with their super sniffer, and now they really want to know more about it. So, get ready, because they are probably about to start tugging on their leash and dragging you on an adventure to figure out where this scent is coming from.

Of course, the ultimate air sniffing opportunity for a dog is when they are in the car, and they get to poke their nose out the window. As neighborhoods pass by quickly, their nose is in pure ecstasy because they are picking up an incredible number of new scents and information about the world around them.

Why does my dog sniff the same spots on our walk every day?

It makes sense that your pup would react with curiosity to new, unexpected, or unusual smells. But why would they want to sniff ordinary objects they come into contact with nearly every day—like that one rock between your house and the neighbor’s or that plain, wooden mailbox post four houses down? If your dog gets preoccupied sniffing these seemingly uninteresting things, chances are they’re gathering intel about what’s going on with other dogs in the neighborhood.

Your dog’s furry friends often relieve themselves on these landmarks, essentially leaving behind messages to let your dog and other dogs in the neighborhood know what they’ve been up to. Your dog sniffs away at these spots to catch up on the latest neighborhood gossip, like which of their four-legged pals have been there recently, how long each one stayed, and even what their friends have been eating. When your dog also pees on the same rock or mailbox post, it’s their way of letting the other dogs in the neighborhood know, “Here’s what’s new with me.”

Why does my dog sniff their business?

You might have noticed that after your dog goes number two, they sometimes smell it, and you’ve probably wondered why in the world that would appeal to them. This is actually quite normal dog behavior, as smelling their poop is how dogs learn to distinguish their own scent from that of other pups.

In fact, one of the ways dogs communicate with each other about what they’ve been up to is by leaving their own bathroom deposits behind as well as by sniffing the deposits of others. If your pooch knows their signature scent, they will know whether the smell they’ve picked up is from a message they previously left for others or a note from one of their four-legged friends. Because they are still learning their particular scent, puppies are more likely than older dogs to sniff their own poop.

Why does my dog sniff other dogs’ tushes?

You’ve arranged a nice, friendly playdate for your pup with another dog in the neighborhood, but the two dogs will not stop sniffing each other in their private areas. Believe it or not, this behavior is comparable to you shaking hands with someone you just met and striking up a conversation to get to know your new acquaintance. Your dogs are simply being inquisitive and sociable.

In addition, sniffing another dog’s tail end is like a reconnaissance mission for your pup, who may be able to determine things like the other dog’s age, sex, reproductive and health status, and mood through these nosey techniques. Even dogs who have known each other for a long time often sniff each other like this to see if everything’s still the same or there have been any changes since the last time they hung out.

Why does my dog sniff my guests in embarrassing places?

Just as your dog may sniff other dogs to get to know them, your fur-baby may also give your human guests the once-over with their nose to find out more about them. The body parts that tend to pique the most interest are the ones that have a lot of sweat glands and thus give off a lot of interesting smells. While this may mean your dog’s nose sometimes ends up in places that make you and your guests feel slightly awkward, your dog’s true intention is only to gather information via a thorough investigation.

Why does my dog sniff me and my things?

Even though your dog already knows you well and certainly does not need to get reacquainted with you every time you leave home and come back, there are times when they may still find it thrilling to sniff you and your clothes. For example, if you’ve returned home after being at a restaurant or another person’s home, your dog may pick up lots of unusual and appealing smells. Sniffing you is often your pup’s way of asking, “What did you do today?”—and finding out the answer.

If your dog seems particularly interested in sniffing your shoes or feet, there’s a reason for that: Feet carry lots of odors, and shoes absorb all of them, which means there’s a lot your pup can learn about your day or your mood by smelling both.

There’s even some evidence that dogs, through their sense of smell, might be able to tell when you’re feeling under the weather. If you’ve got a cold, and your dog keeps running their nose across your clothes or body, it might be their way of letting you know they’re sorry you aren’t feeling great and they really want you to get better soon!

Wagsworth may be able to help keep your pup’s sniffing from getting them in trouble.

Experts don’t advise trying to get your dog to stop sniffing—it’s part of being a dog, after all. However, there may be times when you want or need to encourage your little bestie to temporarily stop using their nose so much, like if another dog isn’t receptive to your pup’s attention, your walk around the neighborhood is taking longer than the time you have available, or it’s making a guest in your home uncomfortable.

Wagsworth offers several different training classes to help you navigate these types of situations. If you’re training a new puppy, you might want to enroll them in Puppy Preschool or a S.T.A.R. Puppy Class, where they will learn socialization and basic cues like sit, come, and leave it. If your four-legged bestie is a little older, our Good Manners class will reinforce and build on those basic cues. Or, if you think you and your pup would benefit from one-on-one instruction, we offer private training sessions either at Wagsworth or in your own home.

Most of the time, though, there’s nothing wrong with letting your pooch experience all the pleasures their nose has to offer.