Tis the season for putting ornaments on trees, hanging stockings from the mantle, and, if you’re a dog, placing your nose directly into the crotch of any and all visitors who drop by the house for a bit of Christmas cheer.
Ah yes, the crotch sniff, next to the leg hump about the most embarassing behavior — for us, anyway — that our dog can engage in.
If you’ve ever wondered why your dog, while showing little or no interest in your crotch, is so fascinated by the laps of visitors, help is on the way.
That sketch on the left shows where dogs sniff their owners — mostly, as you can see by the lines and darkened areas, the arms and face.
The one below shows where dogs sniff strangers, and there seems a much greater focus on the groin.
This comes courtesy of our friend Julie Hecht, who produces the blog Dog Spies. She’s nosing through existing research, and has posted the first of a two-part series on the phenomenon.
Hecht works with Alexandra Horowitz at the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, which regularly tries to figure out why dogs do the things they do — the scientific reasons, as opposed those we tend to arrive at anthropomorphically.
“Behavioural variability of olfactory exploration of the pet dog in relation to human adults.”
(Riotous bunch, those scientists.)
For their sniffing simulation, researchers had human volunteers lay motionless on the floor with their eyes closed for five minutes.
The researchers first observed pet dogs sniffing their owners. Then they watched as dogs sniffed an unknown person. They kept count of the areas sniffed, and made charts. (I’m guessing they didn’t use those red arrows, though.)
Dogs spent more time sniffing strangers than their owners, and, with strangers, more time poking about the crotch zone.
The simple explanation: Your dog already has a good sense of how you and most regular visitors smell. With a new person though, they tend to want to get better aquainted. They do that primarily with their noses.
As for why they sniff where they sniff, I don’t know — and I’m hoping part two of Julie’s post will clear the air and explain the allure of the crotch; whether it’s a matter of going for the most pungent spot, or the most personal and guarded one, or if maybe it, scent wise, it’s simply the most revealing.
Dog only knows.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 14th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, aroma, barnard college, behavior, body, crotch, dog, dog cognition lab, dog spies, dogs, explained, exploration, filiatre, getting acquainted, groin, humans, julie hecht, lap, meeting, olfactory, pets, regions, research, scents, science, scientists, smell, sniff, sniffing, study