Why does my dog smell my breath?

When your dog smells your breath, more than likely, they’re trying to find out more about you. What have you eaten recently? Are you healthy? Has something changed? Alternatively, they could simply be reassuring themselves that you are, in fact, the same owner that they had yesterday. 

Dogs are wonderfully social animals – but we should remember that they’re also incredibly reliant on their noses. The olfactory world that your dog lives in is rich in information, with their sense of smell being tens of thousands of times more refined than that of the human nose. When they go for your breath, their experience is far richer than, say, if you were to breathe in your best human friend’s face.

So let’s take a closer whiff.

“What did you eat for lunch?”

As social creatures, dogs love to know where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. But seeing as you aren’t able to communicate to your dog verbally, there’s only so much that we can tell them. Well, beyond telling them to sit or stay.

This is where their ultra-sensitive nose comes in.

Imagine that a nose is like a camera, with a fixed number of pixels, a certain maximum level of quality a picture could have. The human nose is like a phone’s camera from 2006. Sure, you might get the impression of shapes and basically be able to make out objects, but a significant amount of detail is missing from the picture. A dog’s nose, however, is like a 4K digital film camera – an ultra-high-resolution image filled with details, subtleties of light, and textures.

So when you come back from eating at that new Sushi place across town, for example, your hands might smell like your steering wheel, your pants like your car seat – but ultimately, it’s the breath that gives away the game. It’s very possible that pooch is wondering if you brought him any California rolls home as a treat!

“You smell like you’re coming down with something.”

More than just the smell of food, your breath can give away clues about what’s going on inside your stomach. Equipped with their HD noses, it’s a simple thing for a dog to detect simple cases of acid reflux, stomach upset, or halitosis.

Studies have shown that dogs can actually find early warning signs of some pretty serious illnesses.

Ranging from Type-One Diabetes to the onset of narcolepsy, dogs can figure out healthy patients from the unhealthy and, in some cases, can anticipate acute symptoms such as seizures. What’s more, is that by smelling the breath alone, dogs are able to detect at least two different types of cancer.

Before you call your doctor, it could simply be the case that your dog simply detects a cold coming on – the bacteria in your mouth and throat obviously undergoes changes when you come down with anything at all, so don’t immediately think your dog has diagnosed you with something terrible!

While it may not be the case that you have one of these illnesses, you can be assured that when your dog is sniffing you that they are drawing on huge amounts of information – even some that a trained doctor might not detect!

“What’s new?”

Very simply, your dog may be looking to see what has changed with you today. If you’re a dog owner, you will have noticed that half the fun of a walk around the block for your dog is smelling every corner, lamp-post, and car tire along the way. That’s because every day, your neighborhood smells subtly different. They want to know what dogs have passed by and left their mark. They want to check that strange new smell on the neighbor’s car tire (hedgehog?).

In much the same way, sniffing their owner’s breath will often yield different results on different days.

Maybe today your levels of stress pheromones are elevated, you’ve eaten something strange – or you’ve forgotten to brush your teeth. Don’t worry; your dog isn’t judging you on how bad your breath is. Chances are they think your smelly breath is fantastically interesting.

It should also be noted that face-sniffing and licking, in general, is a standard part of doggie greeting procedures – well, of course, there’s that, and the attention is given to the “other end” (but we won’t get into that). When your dog greets you at the end of a long day of lounging around the house waiting for you to come home, there’s a decent chance that they might simply be showing you some affection.

“Is that really my owner”

Ask any dog expert, and they’ll tell you the same thing – dogs ‘see’ the world with their noses. As refined as our sense of sight is and how comparatively dull our sense of smell is, the reverse is true for dogs. Just seeing, with their eyes, a person walking into a room doesn’t yield the same level of proof as it would to you or me.

For a dog, sniffing is believing, and by going to the most obviously odorous parts of your body, a dog is getting an intimate “look” at the person they’re attending to. Think of it like your dog looking into your face and eyes in near disbelief – “I can’t believe it – she came home!”.

So… is it a problem?

From your pet’s perspective, absolutely not! Being able to smell their owner’s breath allows them some kind of insight into their caregiver’s life that they obviously can’t get from a simple conversation. By letting your dog smell your breath, you’re satisfying their interest and bringing them a little bit more into your world.

At a basic level, smelling their owner’s breath is a stimulating sensory experience, a sign that your dog has a wholesome curiosity about their caregiver. Like all pet behaviors, it’s only a problem when it becomes a problem.

A problem for who?

For example, if your dog is jumping up on frail relatives in an attempt to smell their breath – this is obviously a problem. In cases such as this one, the solution is to find yourself a good trainer. Likewise, excessive sniffing could be a sign of emotional difficulty, provided that it’s accompanied by other signs of anxiety (such as shivering, downwards pointing tail, and an inability to settle) – emotional problems such as this are especially present in former strays, or dogs that have otherwise experienced abandonment.

But in 99% of cases, it’s nothing to worry about, and in fact, letting your dog have a smell of your face should bring you and your pooch even closer.

In Conclusion

There are a whole ton of different things a dog could be looking for when he’s smelling your breath; he’s not just being a weirdo. To summarise, for those who weren’t paying attention, your dog might want:

  • To find out what you’ve eaten today – and to see if you have any more on you.
  • To investigate something which may or may not be illness
  • As a way of figuring out what’s changed with you since the last time, he’s seen you.
  • Actually, he might just be saying “hello!”

So the next time your dog leaps onto your chest looking for a whiff of your breath, just remember: it’s completely normal and nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s a healthy and natural impulse for your furry friend.