Interesting Ways Dogs Greet Each Other

 

When it comes to dog greeting behaviors, dogs may greet each other by following certain “guidelines” based on species-specific social etiquette. Not all dogs necessarily follow such  dog greeting etiquette, as every dog is different and every dog may greet other dogs in different ways, but those dogs who adhere to such greeting etiquette are often found to be less likely to cause conflict. As we have seen in a previous post, dogs have different dog-to-dog tolerance levels, and therefore the utmost caution is always needed when your dog meets and greets stranger dogs. So here are some interesting dog-to-dog greeting behaviors.

dog-pheromonesA Look at Dog Pheromone Glands

To better understand dog to dog greeting behaviors it’s important to know a bit more about pheromones. When dogs meet and greet one another, a whole lot goes on a chemical level. Several pheromone glands are distributed throughout the dog’s body and are concentrated on certain body parts, as seen in the picture.

What’s the purpose of these glands? Pheromone glands secrete special volatile, odorous substances that are meant to relay special messages to the receiver.

The dog on the receiving end, therefore, analyzes these substances courtesy of a special organ, the Jacobson organ, that’s located just nearby the anterior portion by the roof of the dog’s mouth. Right behind the dog’s top incisive teeth is what’s called the  incisive papilla,” a special duct that connects to this organ.

The dog’s incisive papilla allows scent molecules to travel to the dog’s Jacobson organ and then reach their destination by the dog’s brain.

If you have ever seen a dog smelling the grass or another dog, and then such dog chatters his teeth, and perhaps even foams at the mouth, he’s likely gathering these scent molecules towards the incisiva papilla with the help of his tongue (tonguing). Once up the incisive papilla, these scent molecules then travel to the vomeronasal organ and then  reach their destination, the dog’s brain where they are finally interpreted. When dogs meet and greet, the role of these pheromones play a large role allowing dogs to learn more about each other.

The primary pheromone secreting glands in the dog are the labial, auricular, perianal, genital (vulvar or preputial), interdigital (pedal) and mammary complexes of sebaceous glands. Most of the information apparently enters via the vomeronasal organ “~Dr. Bonnie Beaver

Dog Facial-Lingual Greetingfacial-lingual-greeting-dogs

This is one of the most common ways dogs are forced to interact with other dogs when they’re on leash, basically, head-on.  This is generally not a preferred method  to meet as seen in the tense dogs in the picture on the right.

As the name implies, in facial-lingual greeting dogs engage in mutual investigation of each other’s faces. As seen in the picture above, dogs have several pheromones located in their head area.

A dog’s ears have special ceruminous and sebaceous glands which also contain pheromones. According to Dr. Cam Day, these pheromones are similar to the dog appeasing pheromones released from mother dogs, only that in this case, they’re applied to a wider basis for social purposes.

These pheromones found in the skin around the ears are often attractive to younger animals and may provide a cohesion effect with a social group. Adult dogs though may be interested in ears too, and it’s not unusual seeing dogs sniffing each other’s ears as part of their greeting ritual.

The labial area (lip area) is also of special interest to dogs. When dogs greet each other, its not usual to see them sniffing each other’s mouths. Remnants smells of what they ate may be attractive, but the lip area is also an area that secretes pheromones. Karen Overall claims that dog breath samples may also provide information from a neurochemical perspective. This lip licking is sometimes seen in dogs who have been separated from another dog for some time and are trying to gain information.

“Dog appeasing pheromones have a calming effect on puppies. It has also been isolated from the ears in some adult dogs and may play a role in social communication and cohesion.” ~Nicola Ackerman

dog-inguinal-greetingDog Inguinal Greeting

Another area of interest is the groin area. In male dogs, there are also pheromones that are secreted here from the preputial area and urinary tract area. The presence of pheromones from the urinary tract explains why dogs are fixated with urine marking and sniffing other dog’s pee.

Dogs will urine mark on vertical surfaces leaving pheromones behind that can be easily detected at “nose-level” for other dogs to check out. Dogs tend to react differently to pee: some just carefully sniff it and then leave the area, while some others will pee on top of it.

This habit is what has triggered the marketing of pee posts treated with synthetic pheromones for the purpose of grabbing a dog’s attention and hopefully enticing  him to eliminate on them next time nature calls.

dog sniffing under tailsDog Ano-Genital Greeting

This is one of the most common ways dogs greet one another, and the one that people are most accustomed to. In a natural setting, unlike dogs meeting head-on as dogs are often forced to do when on leash, dogs arch their bodies in a curve and investigate one another in a head-to-tail, ano-genital greeting.

What is so interesting with sniffing each other’s butts? Again, pheromones plays a role here. The anal glands, also known as scent glands, are sacs that are found under the tail and around the dog’s rectum at the 4 0’clock and 8 o’ clock position.

The anal glands are known for also secreting pheromones, and this is why dogs are so interested in sniffing another dog’s stool on top of sniffing each other’s butts.

A female dog’s vulval and urinary tract area is also an area of interest. Several pheromone glands in this area secrete information pertaining her reproductive status. In intact female dogs in heat, the scent of pheromones can be picked up by male dogs even miles away. The pheromone concentration in her urine may also tell a male dog whether she is receptive or not. The specific compound has been identified as methyl p-hydroxybenzoate, and according to a study, when this compound was applied to spayed female dogs, it caused male dogs to attempt to mount.

dog tipDid you know? Generally, dogs prefer to greet other dogs by first sniffing under their tails, but afterward they may be interested to exploring other areas where pheromones may also be present such as the lips, remarks Tracie Hotchner, in the book “The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know.

A Matter of Social Etiquette

If after a brief sniffing and mutual assessment, both dogs are happy with each other, they may go on with their lives or, if they’re in the mood, they may provide invitations to play. Not all greetings always end up smoothly though. Some dogs may be too rowdy, getting into the other dog’s faces or pawing. These Canine Tarzans can cause problems with dogs who dislike these types of interactions and who feel the need to “correct” the rude behavior. Generally, it’s polite to just take a few seconds of sniffing to get acquainted with one another and then move off. A dog who lingers on sniffing too much may be “reprimanded” by the dog being sniffed. Also, caution must be used with dogs standing over other dogs, in the perpendicular “T” position.

dog tipDid you know? By the age of 6 weeks, most puppies will have learned species-specific greeting behaviors including facial-lingual, inguinal and ano-genital greeting approaches, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Bonnie Beaver in the book “Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers.”

References:

  • Canine Behavior – Elsevier eBook on VitalSource (Retail Access Card): Insights and Answers, 2nd Edition, by Bonnie V. Beaver Saunders; 2 edition (January 5, 2009)

Photo Credits:

Flickr Ctreative Commons State FarmCanine friends – K-9 Fresca and K-9 Sadie, CCBY2.0
Flick Creative Commons, Tony Alter When Dogs Meet & Greet, CCBY2.0
Wikipedia, Ano-genital control, . Hundehalter CCBY3,0

Dog Nose Touching May Go Beyond Saying Hello

 

Many cat owners are familiar with cats touching noses when they meet and greet, but when dogs touch noses the behavior often leaves owners wondering why dogs engage in this type of meeting ritual. Perhaps it’s just because not all dogs meet this way and because we’re more used to seeing dogs greet by sniffing each others’ tails or groin areas rather than engaging in direct snout-to-snout contact. We thought that today it would be interesting discovering more about nose touching behaviors among dogs and their possible meaning.

cats nose touching

Nose Touches in Cats

We know that cats are the nose-touching creatures par excellence (ever been woken up by the cold nose of cat greeting you and tickling your face with his whiskers?) but why has this greeting ritual become almost the norm? How did this behavior evolve?

It seems like this behavior starts early in the litter when kittens are small teeny-tiny fur bulls. At this stage, the kitten’s eyes haven’t opened as of yet, but their noses have fully functional touch receptors.

Nose touching is therefore the kittens’ way for making contact with their mom and “touching basis” with her. As the kittens grow, this behavior persists and cats use this friendly greeting ritual throughout their lives whether they’re meeting a new non-threatening cat for the very first time or they’re catching up with a buddy after their lengthy cat naps.

 

Nose Touches in Dogsdog nose touch

As many of us have witnessed, dogs touch noses with other dogs too, only the behavior might not be as widespread as in cats.

While puppies are also born blind and their sense of touch is one of their earliest developed senses, the nose-touching behavior doesn’t seem to stick around much as in cats, why is that?

Yet, during their time in the litter, mother dogs and pups are often seen nose-touching. Stanley Coren, upon observing  the interactions between a mother dog and her pups claims that “the opening contact was almost always a nose-to-nose touch.”

So why does nose-touching not stick around much in dogs, whereas, in cats it’s almost the norm?

Are we forcing dogs to meet in ways they're not comfortable with?
Are we forcing dogs to meet in ways they’re not comfortable with?

A Possible Explanation

Here’s just a thought we have. Perhaps it’s because dogs are often taken out on walks so they are more likely to encounter unfamiliar dogs, while cats are more likely to stick around nearby their colony and feeding areas and therefore are more likely to encounter cats they are more familiar with? Perhaps in dogs a butt sniff is preferred because a nose touch puts the dog in a too vulnerable position as it causes direct eye contact?

Something else worth pondering is whether dogs choose to nose touch on their own, or if they are forced to interact this way because that’s how dog owners often let dogs meet when on leash. We may never really know the right answers to these questions and they are certainly worthy of some research. However, the good news is that there is an actual study we can take a peak at that may reveal some interesting findings as to why dogs may engage in nose touching greetings.

 

puppy mother
Nose touches are reminiscent of early puppyhood.

What the Study Says

The study, published in the Journal of Animal Behavior, was conducted by Marianne Heberlein and Dennis Turner at the Institute of Zoology at the University of Zurich.

In the study, treats are hidden around a room. Afterward, special screens are placed in front of  some areas where the treats are hidden. One dog is sent to search for treats, while another dog watches. The observing dog doesn’t know what happens exactly when the dog goes behind the screens.

To add a special twist to the study, sometimes the experimenters purposely removed the treats meaning that the dog got to eat the treats at some times but not in others.

Next, the dogs are allowed to interact with each other. Upon greeting each other, the dogs engage in some nose touches. This is where it gets interesting. If the dog had found some treats, when the observing dog was afterward sent to the room, he was likely to quickly go investigate the areas behind the screen. If the dog found no treats, when the observing dog was sent to the room he was less likely to investigate these areas.

What does this study suggest? It suggests that those nose touches aren’t just a mere way of saying hello, there’s more to it.  Turns out those nose touches are an important communication tool for the purpose of exchanging information. Rather than a formal “hello,” in this case it’s as if the dog was saying something along the terms of ” Hey, have you encountered any goodies around here?” suggests Stanley Coren. Of course, with a dog’s stunning sense of smell, the answer relies within the breath.

Something similar may be going on when dogs are briefly separated for training sessions and then they are reunited. The separated dog may rush to nose touch the dog who underwent training to get any clues about treats being involved. Intrigued by this study, today we  tried a brief experiment, we separated our Rottweilers and did a brief training session with our female Rottie using smelly treats (picture 1).  Once done, our male Rottweiler was released and first thing first he quickly rushed to sniff our female near the face and then sniffed her anal area. Then off he went to look if there were any leftover crumbs on the floor! This is sure an interesting experiment dog owners with multiple dogs can give a try!

train

Food for thought? It has been speculated that dogs who roll in stinky dead things or poop do so to advertise their findings to their social group. It might be a way for dogs to brag about their findings along the terms of  “Look what I found!” or perhaps just a way to share information about food sources with other dogs. If that’s the case, maybe that’s why familiar dogs don’t seem to mind having the other dog nose touch and investigate them?

dog nose kissMore for Friendly Encounters?

At some point, we may wonder if nose touches are more likely to be geared towards friendly encounters, where there are reduced risks for conflicts. Stanley Coren in his bookDo Dogs Dream?: Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know” claims that cats nose touch with any cat they meet that appears nonthreatening.

So is nonthreatening the important keyword here, when it comes to nose touches among dogs?

Nose touching with an unfamiliar dog can after all be risky business as it’s preceded by walking up straightly to a dog and making direct eye contact. Turid Rugaas in her book “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals” reminds us that dogs do not like to approach “head on” and would rather prefer to curving.

Stanley Coren further points out that dogs tend to use nose touches when greeting another nonthreatening species such as cats and kittens or when mother dog greets her puppies. He also mentions seeing it when adult dogs are greeting puppies or when meeting a “young human crawling across the floor.”

So are nose touches mostly reserved among dogs familiar with each other or animals that appear non- threatening? Do dogs take any precautionary steps to ensure that the nose touches are not perceived negatively by the receiver such as walking slowly or slightly squinting the eyes? These are sure some fascinating topics that hopefully will be further discovered one day!

 

References:

  •  Do Dogs Dream?: Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know, By Stanley Coren, W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (July 16, 2012)
  • Why Dogs Touch Noses: Communication and More, by Stanley Coren, retrieved from the web on May 8th, 2016.
  • Dogs, Canis familiaris, find hidden food by observing and interacting with a conspecific Marianne Heberlein*, Dennis C. Turner Animal Behavior, Institute of Zoology, University of Zurich.
  •  Turid Rugaas, “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals” Dogwise Publishing; 2nd edition (December 14, 2005)

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr Creative Commons, Bryan Alexander, Cats’ noses, Claw and Henra consider touching noses (CC BY 2.0)
  • Flickr Creative Commons, Thomas Edwards, The meeting, (CC BY 2.0)

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