Why do dogs sniff between people’s legs and how can you get them to stop? Here are the reasons

László Enikő

2023. July 2 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

I'm sure you've had that unpleasant situation where a dog comes up to you and sticks its nose between your legs. But why do dogs do this? Well, dog experts, trainers and vets have thought about this. And it seems that most of them agree on why dogs exhibit this embarrassing behaviour.


Dogs are not well versed in human etiquette, especially when it comes to using their noses. They will often greet a new dog by quickly sniffing the back of its nose, so this often extends to greeting a new human. Without hesitation, dogs will put their nose between a human’s legs, whether it is the owner or a stranger. Intrusive sniffing can be embarrassing, especially if your dog is doing it with a guest. However, it is a way to greet and gain information about the visitor.

Dogs sniff not just another dogs, but humans too.

The smell of dogs

The noses of dogs are extremely sensitive, with up to 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to only 6 million in humans. This means that their sense of smell is much better than ours. Michael T. Nappier of the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine uses the analogy of dogs being able to detect “the equivalent of half a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool”.

Dogs even have a special organ specifically dedicated to processing odours, called the Jacobson’s organ. This organ, located above the roof of the mouth, plays an important role in how the animal interprets odours. It is connected to the part of the dog’s brain dedicated to smell, which is about 40 times larger than that of humans. This is why they are used to smell out drugs, bombs, cancer, insulin levels, bed bugs and more.

Coronavirus sniffer dog.

Why do dogs sniff between your legs?

Just as when a dog sniffs the back of another dog to get information about it, the same is true when it sniffs a person’s private parts. Humans have a variety of scent glands around the genital area. Knowing this information, it is logical for a dog to sniff around that area to find out all about you. It may be particularly curious if a person with a more complex odour is present. This may be because the individual has recently had intercourse, is menstruating or has just given birth, or may be pregnant. The dog is simply looking for more information about the individual. He is not interested in what is a rather strange and unpleasant situation for humans.

Male dogs are known to be particularly keen sniffers when searching for a mate, as they want to know if the bitch is ovulating or pregnant. Most mammals have apocrine glands, including humans. In our case, these glands are concentrated in the axillae and genitalia. Because the dog can often only reach the human genitalia, it is directed to gather information. Dogs with an exceptionally good sense of smell, such as Basset Hounds and Beagles, are more likely to exhibit this behaviour.

Let your dog do that?

While a dog’s scent-driven curiosity is used to gather information and greet people, most owners want to avoid awkward situations when their pet encounters strangers. Opinions differ on whether to allow this behaviour or not. However, most experts say that a little sniffing is nothing to worry about. If it becomes a bigger problem, or if your pet seems to think it’s his business to sniff everyone he meets, a little intervention may be necessary. And because sniffing is natural for a four-legged friend, it takes some effort to realise that this isn’t true for humans. But because dogs are just dogs, they want to get their noses as close to the new smell as possible.

How to wean him off it

One suggestion for controlling intrusive sniffing is to do obedience training with your pet. If company comes to your house, put him on a leash. Give the command to sit or stay in one place until you let go. Eventually he will understand that you cannot invade the guest’s private areas. It may take time and patience, so don’t give up, especially if the behavior is very disruptive.

Another solution, if your dog is an avid sniffer, is that when a guest enters your home, they should first put their fist out towards the animal to sniff it. This can distract the dog from intimate areas and still give him a little sniffing stimulation.

Yes, it’s embarrassing when a dog does this, but it’s a way to gather preliminary information about someone. A dog’s nose is the best way to learn about the world, however embarrassing that may be.

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