14 December

Why Dogs Touch Noses: Zinnia, Bud

by Jon Katz

Puppies are cute, and it’s fun to watch them play and explore, but more and more, I’m fascinated by their behaviors and use each new one to try to learn more about them.

The more I live with my dogs, the more I learn about them. It’s astounding how little I know.

Psychology Today recently published a study exploring why it is that dogs touch noses. It seems cute – Bud and Zinnia have begun doing it – but of course, it’s more than cute. It has meaning.

Just as dogs sniff each other’s butt to learn more about them, they sniff puppies to say hello.

Nose touching is more common in dogs than cats, said the study. Cats use this greeting nose touch with almost every cat that they meet who appears to be nonthreatening.

Researchers have found that nose touching can be an elemental part of the socialization of puppies. Zinnia sometimes hops up onto my lap and licks and touches my nose.

Nose touching is believed to speed socialization among puppies, it looks like Zinnia is giving Bud a kiss, more likely she is just saying hello. Bud sometimes touches our noses when he gets close.

Dogs appear to be more selective in their nose to nose touching,” says Psychology Today. “Not every greeting is accompanied by snout contact. However, it is quite common for adult dogs to engage in nose touching with puppies. It is also quite common to use nose touching when greeting another non-threatening species. Thus dogs can be seen nose touching with cats and kittens, horses and so forth. A young human child crawling across the floor is often greeted with a nose touch by an approaching dog.”

Zinnia has locked onto Bud as a 24-hour playmate. I am controlling that, limiting it to a half-hour or so a day inside. When either dog gets excited in the house (they can play outside as much as they want), I put one of them in a crate until they settle down.

I don’t want Zinnia obsessing on another dog.

It’s fun to watch dogs play, but I am mindful of the fact that adult dogs don’t play, they are just honing their hunting and killing skills. Adults dogs don’t need to play as much as their owners like to see them play, it warms our hearts to think of them as being healthy and social.

But I see many more crazy dogs than grounded ones, and I know excessive play brings up any dog’s prey drive. In our lives, dogs don’t need to have their prey drive jacked up, they need to tamp it down.

They need stimulation exercise, and work if possible,  not arousal.

More than anything, they need to be settled and grounded at times. No dogs gets grounded in a playgroup or chasing balls all day. We think we’re wearing them out, most often we are just cranking them up.

But the enemy of the grounded dog is the aroused dog. Zinnia does need to play, it’s a critical part of her socialization and dog etiquette training. Bud and Fate will both correct her if she goes too far.

But I never forget that a dog plays to hone their hunting skills, not to be calm or obedient. My job is to manage these phases and keep them in focus.

And yes, I do think it’s adorable to see But and Zinnia touching noses, it does make me smile.


  1. I’ve always thought that the best teacher for a puppy is an adult dog. My Heidi loves to interact with puppies but she won’t hesitate to correct a pup that is too rambunctious and in her face. It’s too bad that so many owners see this as aggression and pull the puppy away before the lesson can be learned. I tell people that if the puppy comes right back to the adult dog, what they have witnessed is education, not aggression. I’ve had lots of puppy owners comment that one appropriate correction from an adult dog cures a puppy’s jumping behaviour faster than a dozen correction attempts by humans. That’s because the dog and the puppy are speaking the same language. After the correction, it’s so cute to see the puppy following Heidi around. It’s tail is going a mile a minute, but there’s no more jumping and face biting.

  2. …and my goodness, isn’t Zinnia growing in size! This is such a thoughtful essay of yours–words to mull over. We have often been in a situation of more than one dog together, only once three, and your words ring right home.

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