You are relaxing on the cozy couch in the living room and your loyal companion hops on to join your lounging. You think he’s getting closer to get a kiss on his snout before he establishes his position next to you but he lingers for a few moments longer - most likely he is sniffing you out. As it turns out, many dog owners experience similar scenarios of their four-legged buddies wanting to smell their breath. While it makes complete sense for dogs to want to get a whiff after they have witnessed their owner eat something tasty, why do dogs want to smell their owner’s breath outside of meal times?
The Root of the Behavior
There is nothing like waking up to a wet nose poking around your face in the early morning, your furball doing his first round of scent analysis. The behavior leaves many dog owners wondering where the common practice comes from and what it means. Dogs are incredibly curious animals who love discovering new places, tastes, and smells. More importantly, our canine companions use their sense of smell to interpret the world around them. It is safe to say that they are simply hardwired to smell everything that catches their attention, including your breath! Dogs have an incredibly advanced sense of smell and can get much more information from smelling something than a human can. It is not surprising as a dog’s nose has approximately 300 million olfactory receptors in comparison to a human’s mere six million. Roughly, that means your pooch’s sniffer is 10,000 to 100,000 times better at detecting and analyzing different odors, depending on his breed.
While we can definitely tell if something smells good, fresh, or rotten as well as tell apart different scents from each other when they are mixed in together, dogs are able to smell and tell each scent they smell apart - separately, even if there are tons of them combined. For example, you might smell the garlic on your breath but your pooch can smell the onion, the start of a cavity, a little bit of what you ate in the morning, as well as your hormones! With all of the above in mind, most dogs want to smell your breath just so that they can learn more information about you. It is a way for them to get some insight into things that they are for obvious reasons unable to ask. It is a canine way of saying “How are you doing? Tell me about your day."
Encouraging the Behavior
Allowing your dog to smell your breath seems to have more advantages than disadvantages. Not only does it enable him to have a sensory experience, it also allows him to get an insight into your day and make your bond stronger. Even though it might seem gross, regardless of how bad or good your breath smells, most dogs will be intrigued to investigate it further, especially if it is the former. What smells good to humans such as perfumes and clean laundry does not necessarily please our furball’s nose sensors. Quite the opposite, most canines love things that stink or have an unpleasant odor, such as trash, dirty socks, and other dog’s urine.
On top of finding out what you ate and how you are feeling, a dog’s nose can be a real life-saving medical device. The superior smellers have helped in early detection of certain medical conditions and can be trained to sniff out things like tuberculosis, a fever, and even cancer. On the other hand, if your dog’s sniffing makes you uncomfortable you don’t have to allow it. What sort of boundaries you want to set between you and your canine companion is entirely up to you as it is a choice that needs to be made individually.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Some dog owners misinterpret their dog’s greeting as their desire for wanting to smell their breath. However, face and mouth sniffing is one common way canines greet one another, as well as humans they consider members of their pack. In the past, wild dogs and their ancestors used the practice to find out what the pack leader ate, while puppies smelled and licked their mother’s snout in hopes of getting some food. With domesticated dogs, it is most often just a greeting and a way for your dog to find out what you have been up to and how you are feeling that day.
Regardless of breed or age, dogs might want to smell your breath for a variety of reasons. Some of them stem from their natural curiosity for a sensory experience while others do it in search of particular information they want to learn about their owners. In both cases, it is important to stay safe and have clear boundaries between you and your canine buddy. Let him sniff you out if you’re comfortable with that type of closeness, if not stick to other forms of bonding such as long walks and playtime.