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.
A 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 Greeting
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 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 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.
Did 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.
Did 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.”
- Canine Behavior – Elsevier eBook on VitalSource (Retail Access Card): Insights and Answers, 2nd Edition, by