“Hey there! Do I know you?? Lemme smell to find out…”
Butt Sniffing. It’s gross to most humans, but it’s very important to our canine comrades.
Derriere sniffing is just one of the many fascinating forms of chemical communication in the animal kingdom. Animals all around the world use chemical communication to communicate. Pheromones are the source of this communication!
Pheromones are chemicals released by living organisms that send information to other organisms of the same species via scent. They’re used to scent mark, attract mates, claim territory, find prey, and identify other animals. Pheromones can be released as alarms, food trails, sex lures, and much more. Plants, vertebrates, and insects communicate in this chemosensory way.
Our dogs are just as sensitive to these pheromones, and they decipher them using a very cool method! Like many reptiles and other mammals, dogs have a “scent collector “in the roof of their mouth that’s called a Jacobson’s Organ, or a vomeronasal organ. (Which, by the way, is absolutely one of the coolest tools in the animal kingdom.) This organ is used by many species to send chemical scents directly to the brain.
Snakes, like many animals, use their Jacobson’s Organ to detect pheromones in their environment! Snakes are actually tasting the air when they stick out their tongues.
The Jacobson’s organ is useful in the process of communicating chemical messages between members of the same species. The organ helps snakes hunt and track their prey. Much evidence suggests that this organ may also be involved in the detection of chemical signals related to aggression and territoriality in some species.
Fun Fact: Elephants touch the tips of their trunks to the Jacobson’s Organ (inside the roof of their mouth) to engage their chemosensory perception of things in their environment. Lions use it for sensing sex hormones.
A great view of an elephant’s Jacobson’s Organ. Elephants touch the tip of their trunk to this organ to discern scents in their environment. I have had the pleasure being able to feel one of these organs, thanks to a very special Asian elephant named Gene.
This same organ recognizes chemicals as they enter a dog’s nose, via circular sniffs through each nostril. This organ then interprets the pheromones collected. It’s sensitive enough to not confuse fecal matter scent with pheromones.
Underside view of a dog’s Jacobson’s Organ
According to the American Chemical Society, when dogs get their derriere sniffing on, it’s really all about one dog literally sniffing out important information about the other. Find out why “Bacon is to people, as butt sniffing is to dogs” in the video below:
Fido Fact: An average dog’s nose is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s.
Our pooches have pouches called anal sacs. These sacs are a pair of small, kidney-shaped structures on each side of the anus. These sacs hold glands that secrete chemicals. Every dog has a unique scent “signature” created by the secretions of its anal sacs. This unique scent not only distinguishes one dog from another, but it also reveals the dog’s sex. Genetics and the state of their immune system can influence the aroma of these sacs.
When an animal passes a stool, it should put enough pressure on the anal glands so that some of the secretion is deposited on the surface of the stool. Other dogs are able to tell who has been in the ‘hood, just by sniffing the stools they find. Dogs can smell these anal sac scents when they are nose-to-rear as well.
Dogs (and cats) recognize each other by smelling one another in the general area of the anus, since each animal’s anal glands produce a unique scent.
“oooh, what do you have going on?! Let me get a good whiff and find out!”
Sniffing another dog’s derriere is just another form of chemical communication. Think of this behavior as “speaking with chemicals”. It’s how dogs learn about another dog’s diet, gender, and even their emotional state!
So the next time you see your dog getting a good whiff of another dog’s derriere, or another dog’s doody, let him/her get their sniff on. It’s not gross; its purely instinctual and it’s a very effective form of communication between canines! Your dog will thank you for letting him/her Be a Dog.