Why Dogs Sniff Butts

 “Like the herd animals we are, we sniff warily at the strange one among us.” ~ Loren Eisenley

Stay with me; I’m going somewhere thoughtful here.

A dog lover, they’ve been part of my life for decades. So naturally, I was drawn to a recent article titled, “Why Do Dogs Sniff Each Other’s Butts? It’s More Complicated Than You Might Imagine.” Turns out, it’s all about one canine literally sniffing out important information about the other; its gender, emotional state, diet, and more. It’s like communicating with chemicals. As part of its olfactory system, dogs nerves direct the chemical information it detects directly to the brain so there’s no interference from other odors. Keep this “no interference” in mind.

Which brings me to the actual focus for this post. As humans, we also process information by:

  • Being quiet inside and really listening as a way of being aware of our own feelings as well as the feelings of others and;
  • Being aware of habitual negative patterns of thought, behavior and communication and then making positive choices to better serve ourselves and others.

When it comes to effective, meaningful communication, there is probably not a more important skill than listening. Not just hearing but truly listening. Listening is challenging for many people because we are often:

  • Focused on the physical appearance, social status, or the clothing of the person speaking. Maybe even judging them.
  • Planning on what you have to do once the conversation has ended.
  • Devising a solution while the other person is sharing a problem.

Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear. It’s what many people do. Listening requires more than that: it requires focus. Just as canines use their acute sense of smell to enhance communication, we can further develop our skill by listening with our eyes and our heart. Think Golden Rule: How do you want to be listened to?

Most of us believe we’re good listeners. If you want to become an even better listener, consider these ideas:

  1. Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation. Unless they specifically ask for advice, assume they simply need to talk it out.
  2. Listen without interrupting. Often, people want to interject their own thoughts. (Yes, we know we do.) Does your body acknowledge that you are listening? Use smiles, nods, and expressions of understanding to communicate to the speaker that you are listening. It is important for them to know their words are respected.
  3. Want to listen. This is unique. You must have an intent to listen. Sometimes you don’t want to listen. At other times, your actions may indicate that you don’t want to listen when you really do. And at still other times, you may be unaware that you don’t want to listen. We can be as good a listener as we want.


61 thoughts on “Why Dogs Sniff Butts

  1. Nice post Eric. Listening is a lost “art” and wonderful gift to another, especially your version of listening with heart. I might add good listening is connected to being very present with another focused only on listening.

    • Thanks for a thoughtful comment, Brad, though I believe listening is not a lost art; it’s simply been sidelined by our ever-hectic, digitally-oriented world. And to your point, is is a gift – to oneself and the other. Cheers!

  2. Your title is definitely an attention grabber.:) I totally agree that listening is a skill that needs to be developed and does not mean solving others problems when not asked. took me some time in life to figure that out. Great post.

    • I believe masterful listening is one of those qualities that can and does develop over time, Sue. Few of us ‘get’ its importance until we become more aware. And I don’t believe wanting to solve people’s problems is undesirable; there’s simply a right place and a right time for that as well. Thanks for adding to the ‘conversation.’

    • Undoubtedly, it will become lost on some. Yet perhaps they were never destined to be focused listeners in the first place. Different trajectories and values, scatter and align us. Appreciate your sniffing.

  3. Thanks for making me understand this interesting subject about dogs. I always wondered why. Listening can be hard. I think it’s a talent and skill. Have a great weekend!

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed your post Eric. I love your opening gambit, “Stay with me; I’m going…” The dog metaphor is so good; we certainly “sniff” people out. Sounds crude, but I’m sure you know what I mean. 🙂 I think added to the whole listening process is that deeply compassionate ability to hear behind the words. Sometimes the words are not congruent with what is actually happening and the ability to hear what is happening, in spite of what the words are saying, is a sheer listening gift. I don’t think there are many who are capable of this. Again thanks for a marvellous post.

    • Thanks, Don. You highlight a skill and quality that is, indeed, both rare and treasured. In my work, it is truly the most challenging aspect of what I do — listening for what’s not being said. An ability to do this effortlessly and obviously, intuitively, is a competency that makes a coach masterful. I’m not there yet but I am always working to hone this ability.

      So glad you enjoyed the canine opening. As shared with an earlier commenter, I had fun linking the two seemingly disparate subjects. Here’s to our continued sniffing and listening!

  5. I hear you …. great advice Eric!
    In this day and age I would also add. Stop multi tasking and focus on the other person. We may think we are listening … when in fact our behavior doesn’t support it at all 😉
    Val x

    • Thanks, Val. A noble goal, yours, yet how in today’s age would you convince people to lessen the extent to which the (choose to) multitask? We both know and appreciate the trade-off, but how do you sell it to the masses? I’m 100% behind you when you take this on. 🙂

  6. Lovely post, Eric. Listening with heart to another is so important. It is precisely why I enjoy coaching so very much. I listen deeply – for the story behind the words, for there is one, always below the surface of what is spoken. I now you know this, too. Our greatest gift to another is to listen…not to simply hear. 😉

    • Funny thing, Carrie, I’ve always combined listening with the heart and the eyes, it just seems so natural. Then again, I spend a lot of time in the communication arena so the view and practice can differ from others. It’s good to know (and appreciate) others who listen with their hearts. Thank you for doing so and for your thoughtful comment.

    • I am honored that you’d create time to read such simple messages here, Jana. The beauty and eloquence with which you communicate, in words, is otherwordly.

      The matter of intent, when listening, adds genuineness and value to an exchange. Glad I presented a worthy reflection.

  7. Wonderful post Eric .. and listening is a skill not many have these days as they talk over each other or never look up from their mobile phones..

    Within my own field of work.. we are also trained to listen to what is not being said.. and body language often speaks louder than words…

    as always thank you for your insights

    • As with others skills we learn and choose to hone, listening is indeed an art, Sue. Glad that you, too, recognize it as such and put your communication talents to favorable and constructive use. As always, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  8. One of my biggest flaws in interrupting others. I know it, I recognize it, and try as I might (and I do) I keep doing it. 😦 All of this dog butt sniffing makes sense. Now if I could just implement it all.

      • Well, we both know that recognizing/admitting it is the first step. Check.

        Second step, I have ‘started’. I quite literally tell myself to BE QUIET before I go in to a meeting or planned discussion. Sometimes that works for a while, sometimes it does not.

        I have started to acknowledge it when I do it and realize I am doing it, and apologize for it.

        But it still happens in such high quantity. I have so far to go Eric…..

      • So maybe you could look at in terms of how far you have progressed versus having so far to go? 🙂 Bravo for your conscious efforts, Colleen. Even baby steps are evidence to forward movement.

  9. This was quite interesting to read. I’ve always wondered why dogs sniff each other’s butts, but I never looked it up. I think it’s marvelous how their brains can convert the chemical messages into information on emotional states, diet etc. Physiology is super cool!

      • It did actually. I’ve learnt to be a good listener, because I realized that’s a quality I sought in my friends and family and didn’t find often enough. It’s interesting how being on the receiving end of something you dislike can make you change your own habits 🙂

      • I like both of your comments when considered collectively. 🙂 And your observation about being on the receiving end helping to effect your own change is wonderful! Thanks for taking the time to share your even broader view.

  10. Great post Eric! You sure know how to get us to “listen up” with post titles like “Why Dogs Sniff Butts” – I mean, who could resist???

    I echo Sue’s sentiments that tuning into body language is such an important part of the listening process. Body language speaks volumes, and when we tune into this type of listening, it may very well illuminate intention and allow us to connect from the heart, as your four-part character/symbol image speaks to. I also really love “listening” to images and you always choose such wonderful ones! The image of the doggie and gramophone is just delightful and really brought your message home. 🙂

    • From loose goats to dog’s butts… we are on a roll. 🙂 Kidding aside, thanks, Amanda, for echoing Sue’s thoughts and adding your own kind comments. Body language is, indeed, integral to both listening and becoming even more effective communicators. I always appreciate your contributions!

  11. Thank you. This is something I so need to learn. I winced when I read, “Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation. Unless they specifically ask for advice, assume they simply need to talk it out.” And from another post of yours I loved: “Untether people.” Don’t try to micro-manage their reactions and thought processes. But how long is it going to take me to learn how to really listen? I love your third point, that you need to want to listen. Perhaps for me this is the key.

    • I suspect many of us (myself included) winced, josna. It’s simply someone else’s words creating awareness of something within us that we know and perhaps, want to change. 🙂

      I wish I was a greater practitioner of “untethering people” when I was still part of the corporate world. Enough said.

      How long will it take for you to learn how to really listen? My bet is on you. The fact that you’re already acknowledging this as an area in which you want to change is a first step. If it is truly something that is important and that your value, you are free to choose your next action steps. Consider playing with it… experimenting with ways to shift your thinking and actions.

      Thanks for your candid thoughts!

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