An intact male dog can smell a female dog in the heat far away. A general guesstimate is that the distance is about 3 miles. We do know, based on observation, that the scent goes far and wide and isn’t restricted to the walls of a home or the immediate potty area. Intact male dogs will also go to extreme lengths to get to a female in heat.
The Nose Knows: How Dogs Pick Up Scents
It’s important to understand how a dog’s nose works. You probably already figured out your dog loves to sniff. You might even know a dog’s nose is much more powerful than yours. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), it’s 100,000 times more sensitive than humans.
“Smelling could be called the dog’s superpower”
When they take in a juicy smell, it’s processed by all those scent receptors and sent to the brain. They don’t even exhale a good scent while the processing is happening. Their “scent factory” in the brain is seven times larger than a human’s. They can hold onto the scent without letting go of the breath to analyze it.
Here’s an example of how keen dogs are to smell. Let’s say you’re cooking meatloaf for dinner. You smell meatloaf. The dog smells meat, eggs, ketchup, tomato sauce IN ketchup, onions, and spices.
A dog’s sense of smell is harnessed and used to detect things like bombs, drugs, human remains, missing people, and even cancer.
Now add on top of all those smell sensations, dogs also have a vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson’s organ, in their nose for just chemical and hormone scent processing. This is where they bring in, seize, analyze, and then track a female in heat. If you’ve ever seen your dog sniffing with nostrils flaring, he or she is activating their Jacobson’s organ.
A female in heat has a discharge that indicates the heat cycle is starting. She will urinate much more often, “marking” her scent to male dogs that she’s open for business. The urine is loaded with pheromones. Once a dog picks up on the smell, he’s going to search for the female so he can mate. It’s just instinct.
Can I Do Anything to Stop My Male Dog from Picking Up the Scent?
There are products offered online that are said to help disguise the scent of a dog in heat. This is generally done by the female’s owner to cover the scent of urine.
There are products for the males to temporarily distract them from the smell of a dog in heat. One brand, Lust Buster, even admits it’s a short storm option to lessen the smell. You apply Lust Buster to the male dog’s nose and peppermint oils are meant to keep him from smelling the female pheromones.
Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Kennel Club, says none of the treatments is fail-safe.
“Never let your guard down!” – Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Kennel Club
This becomes a problem if you have an intact male dog in the same home as the dog in heat. Dogs don’t understand they are “siblings” in a human home. They just know what their natural instincts tell them to do.
If you do have these dogs in your home, here’s the advice from Dr. Klein, “Keep both dogs under STRICT control. Both on a leash or in secured crates or different rooms. Walking them separately at different times has to be done. Some people actually have to resort to boarding either the male or female during the 7-10 days when they are at their most vulnerable and most attracted to each other. It is not uncommon for dogs to dig or climb fences to get to a dog in heat.”
I don’t have a female dog in my home. Why is my male dog acting so crazy?
Male dogs can pick up the scent for miles. Once they do, THEIR hormones start going wild and you might not even recognize your good ol’ boy.
Even if you don’t know your neighbors well, there are signs to look for in your male dog that means he smells a female in season:
- Hyperfocused on running away (to get to the female)
- Won’t eat
- Becomes unusually aggressive
- Won’t focus on toys or treats
- Exessive urinating (marking) while outside
Even letting your male dog run in your own fenced backyard is not a good idea when there is a female in heat around. He’ll dig, jump, and claw to get to her. If you do take the dog into the yard, you should be there to supervise him.
If you are at the dog park and there is a female in heat, leash your dog and leave. You won’t be able to easily restrain your male dog, and it’s not worth the anxiety of a dog torn between obeying its owner and following a natural hard-driven instinct.
What Do I Do if the Dogs Mate?
A dog mating process starts as you’d think, with the male dog mounting the back end of the female dog and using his front legs to hang on to her midsection. You’ve seen this kind of “humping” action at one time or another.
But it’s “The Tie” that leads to full mating. After a few thrusts, the dogs will eventually stop moving. When they are tied, they will usually re-position themselves to be backside to backside, facing away from each other. At this time, the male’s penis swells up inside the female. The AKC says you should never try to separate two dogs that are tied, as it can be dangerous to the dogs. They are quite literally locked together.
This entire process can take 10-30 minutes, according to the AKC. All you can do is sit and wait for the separation.
Do Male Dogs Have Any Kind of Heat Cycle?
Once a male dog has reached full maturity, which can be as early as 6 months of age to 15 months of age, they are always “ready to go.” Smaller dogs reach sexual maturity faster than larger dogs.
They can remain reproductive throughout their entire life span, even as elderly dogs.
My Male Dog is Neutered. Will He Still Go After the Scent?
When a male is neutered, his testicles are removed. That means he can’t reproduce. It could also calm down his behavior like humping, mounting, and aggression. He’s still the same dog, he’s just not as driven to mate.
The nose isn’t neutered though, so all the same olfactory functions still work just the same. At this point, it’s more of a matter of urgency, which generally is lessened by castration.
If you have a neutered male dog in the home, there is a chance the dog will try to mount the female. There is also a chance he’ll be completely indifferent to her. Each dog will be different in how they handle the heat cycle.
Dr. Klein says, “A neutered male dog may still go ‘through the motions, but because he has been neutered or castrated and is unable to produce sperm, he would be shooting blanks.”
The female dog isn’t going to know the difference between a neutered or intact male, so don’t be surprised if she’s strutting her stuff around the house in front of the neutered male. One key behavior females exhibit during the heat is wagging their tails to the side, giving them better access to the mate. This is called “flagging.”
Again, if the neutered male does tie with the female, do not try to separate them.
How Long Does Heat Last?
A heat cycle is generally 2-3 weeks long, so if your male dog is obsessed with the scent, just know it’s not a long-term problem. Neutering the male can lessen the interest in mating.
It’s important that dog owners of both males and females pay attention to their dog’s behavior during a planned or unexpected heat cycle. While it’s easy to point fingers and assign blame, dogs are going to do their own business while the humans argue and then there could be a whole litter of problems to come.