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Unraveling the Mystery: Why Dogs Cover Their Nose

Dogs are known for their intriguing behaviors and one curious habit they often exhibit is covering their nose with their paw or arm.

We’ll dive into the reasons behind this fascinating behavior, exploring the possible motivations and underlying instincts that drive dogs to cover their nose. 

Belgian malinois laying on floor covering nose with paw.

Temperature regulation

The nose of a dog plays a crucial role in thermoregulation, particularly in hot or cold weather, this behavior might help dogs retain or dissipate heat, ensuring their overall comfort.

Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat through their skin and so they rely on panting and releasing heat through the sweat glands on their paw pads. They also expel heat through their nose to regulate their body temperature and keep cool.

Conversely, on cold nights, dogs will sometimes curl into a ball, a sleeping position commonly referred to as the doughnut, and cover their nose. This is typically to preserve body heat and utilize the warm expelled air just like we do when we blow hot air on our hands when they are cold.

White and brindle pet adopted greyhound adorably curls up in her dog bed. Paw and front leg raised near her face.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Comfort and security

Covering their nose with a paw may provide dogs with a sense of comfort and security. 

Similar to humans finding solace in covering their face during stressful moments, dogs may instinctively resort to this behavior to self-soothe and seek a safe space.

Also, when some dogs experience anxiety or nervousness they can be seen cowering and covering their nose. In the case of a scared looking dog, it’s important for the wellbeing of the dog to identify the stressor and remove it. 

You can also remove the dog from the situation until you can properly desensitize that particular stressor. Even the toughest breeds like a drug sniffing Belgian Malinois or a bomb sniffing German Shepherd can be deathly afraid of thunder to the point of running to a corner of their kennel and crawling into a ball covering their nose to seek security. 

Dog and woman covering their eyes with their hand and paw.
Photo credit: Pexels.

Light blocking

Just like humans, some dogs may have increased sensitivity to bright light. By the dog covering their nose, they may be attempting to block out the excess light that could cause discomfort or temporary vision impairment.

There have been claims that dogs cover their noses to block light so they can sleep better. However, in a 2019 study published by the National Library of Medicine, it was found that there was no significant difference in the amount of time a dog slept in lighted conditions vs. unlighted conditions.

Scratching or itching

It can clearly be seen that when a dog tries to scratch or itch their snout and or ears they often end up covering their nose. 

Having watched this many times it seems that when they finish scratching they sometimes just leave the paw where it lies. Often right over their nose. Whether they are doing this intentionally or not is difficult to ascertain. 

If your dog is persistently doing this you will want to check out the area they are scratching as it may be a sign of pain or irritation of some sort. 

There is a long list of potential issues that could cause this behavior such as, ear infection, food allergies, skin infection, porcupine quills, insect bites and stings, flea or tick bites, atopic dermatitis, bacterial infection, etc.

Cheerful border collie dog hides his nose with his paw.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Why do dogs cover the nose?

While the act of a dog covering their nose, giving a side-eye glance or sleeping with their eyes open may seem peculiar at first glance, it is often driven by a combination of innate behaviors and instinctive responses. From seeking comfort and security to regulating body temperature, dogs have various reasons for engaging in this behavior. 

Just like horses sleep standing up, dogs covering their nose with their paw may just be another weird animal habit.