Common Dog Habits And What They May Mean
Have you ever wondered why your dog scratches the carpet or follows you all over the house? Or perhaps why your pet eats the grass even though you fed it well? Sometimes there's an evolutionary reason, but it could also be you who's behind some of your dog's odd behaviors. Let's see what the explanations are behind some of the odd habits from our dear pets.
Sniffing Each Other
Dogs love to sniff each other's rear ends. Some dogs even do it to people, which can be quite intrusive. So why do they do it? Dogs' butts are the strongest source of pheromones on their bodies. That means that a dog can tell everything about another dog's personality by smelling it. At least it's easy for them, if not a little embarrassing for us.
Howling At The Moon
There is nothing more irritating than a dog who won't stop howling or barking when you are trying to sleep at night. Why do they do this? The reason is pretty simple. Dogs used to have to communicate with the rest of their packs at night, and they are trying to do this today too. Most dogs who howl a lot are going to be dogs that were bred close to wolves, like Samoyeds, Huskies, or Spitz breeds.
Walking Around In Circles Before Sleeping
Another one of those vestigial behaviors. Dogs will often walk around in a circle before going to sleep. This is especially common when a dog is going to sleep on the ground or outside. Before dogs were domesticated, they had to find their own places to sleep, and they did this to tramp down the grass. This made a nice soft cushion for them, and they still do it today.
Dogs dig because of instinct. This is especially true in terrier breeds who were originally bred to hunt rodents. Some dogs also just like hunting for buried objects. The dog might figure that since HE likes to bury things in the ground, he might find other things in the ground too. That's actually pretty logical thinking as dog thoughts go.
A dog who scratches at the floor a lot can be destructive and annoying. There are two possible reasons for this. For most dogs, it's yet another way to assert dominance. They are leaving a "mark" for other dogs to see that they were there. However, if you have a "snow breed" like a Samoyed, Husky, or Malamute, it can also be a "burrowing" behavior. These dogs instinctually burrow their way into the ground outdoors to keep themselves warm, and they'll do it to your floors too!
Chewing On Blankets
If you have a toddler, you know how they bond with that ONE particular stuffed toy, or maybe a blanket. Dogs do exactly the same thing. If a dog is taken away from its mother too early, they are simply trying to comfort themselves. Dogs don't have thumbs, so a blanket is the next best thing to suck on. This is fairly unusual behavior, but you might see it in dogs from less-than-reputable breeders more often.
Most dogs will take a new toy or pull-rope and shake it a bit when they first get it. Some are more violent about it than others! The dog is "remembering" that it used to have to do this with their prey, making sure that the prey was actually dead before eating it. In some hunting breeds, this behavior has been bred out. You wouldn't want a dog to go and pick up your kill just to ruin it with a good shake.
The Play Bow
Dogs do a play bow to their owners to show that they are excited and ready to play. They'll do this to you and to other dogs. When two dogs do it to each other, it's game on! They'll be chasing each other all over the dog park. It can be a little scarier if one dog does it and the other doesn't reciprocate. That usually means a dominance issue is coming from one dog or the other.
Shaking Water Off
All dogs shake when they get out of water. This can be a big mess with some dogs. They shake to get water off, and this is the most efficient way that the dog knows to get the water off of their body. It works too! Wet dogs can shake off up to 70 percent of the water on their bodies simply by shaking it off. If only it worked that well for your carpet AFTER your dog does it...
Hiding Under The Bed
Dogs don't always hide under beds because of fear. Fear can be a reason for this behavior, but there is actually another reason. Some dogs just want a private, quiet space. It's another one of those primal behaviors, and in this case, it's in imitation of a dog den. Unlike a dog bed or something like that, a human bed never changes location, and some dogs find that comforting too.
If your dog stares at you a lot, it can be a good thing. They're trying to tell you that they want something. "Please give me food." "Please give me a treat." Staring straight back at some dogs can stop them from doing this, but really, is it so hard to get out of your chair and get a Milk-Bone?
This is a very cute behavior, and a lot of people wonder why dogs do it. A dog who runs in its sleep is trying to do exactly that: run in its sleep. Even dogs dream, and the running is a reflex that happens during a dream. You might also hear your dog let out little yips or grunts for the same reason.
Barking At The Mail Carrier
A lot of dogs bark at specific people during the day. Your poor mail carrier is probably one of the most frequent targets. If you have a dominant dog, the dog barks at the mail carrier because he is in the dog's territory. The mail carrier always leaves, so the dog figures that the barking is working. Makes sense right? If he leaves the territory then the dog has "won".
This happens more in bigger dogs than smaller ones but they all do it. It never fails either...you just got settled on the couch, maybe with someone else, and the dog just lets one rip. Why do they do this? Some breeds, especially bulldogs, tend to swallow a lot of air when they eat. They can't really help it because of their short, stocky bodies. If your dog does it all the time, it probably needs to see a vet and you probably need to invest in a gas mask.
Barking At Other Dogs With Ears Pressed To Its Head
If your dog barks at or near other dogs with its ears pressed against its head, it's admitting submission. Usually, if you see a pack of dogs barking at someone or something, one dog will have its ears up, and the others will have their ears down. The one with the ears up will be the alpha dog. You might see other dogs with ears up a little bit too, which is another way of indicating pecking order.
You might think it's strange that a dog will take a treat and then go bury it. Or, at the very least, chew on it for a while before devouring it. It's actually an evolutionary behavior that is very common in smaller dogs. Before dogs were domesticated, they used to hunt for their own food. If there were other dogs around that were bigger, they would take the food. The smaller dogs learned to hide leftovers to keep the bigger dogs from eating it all. It seems like a smart idea!
Panting is a habit that all dogs exhibit. They do it for two big reasons. The first is to get more oxygen, which is the same thing when a person is running out-of-breath after a workout. More importantly, even when there is no workout or no exercise, dogs can't sweat. They can only pant to regulate internal temperature. So, if your dog is panting hard on a sunny day, it probably means that it is too hot. Bring it inside and give it some water.
Sticking Its Head Out Of The Window
Dogs stick their heads out of the windows of cars for many reasons. They like the sensation of air on their fur. More importantly, they love the smells that they encounter. If your dog likes to do this, please be careful. This can be very dangerous for dogs, as foreign objects can fly up and hit them. The dog might also not be able to react quickly enough to oncoming traffic if the road is narrow.
Tail Wagging - Slow
A slow wag can mean a lot of things too. Obviously, one reason could be that the dog is just tired, but happy to see you. (Or the treat you're holding!) Some dogs wag their tails slowly as a response to anxiety. A human equivalent would be a person who giggles involuntarily in a scary situation. Other dogs do it as a submissive response to other dogs. They're trying to say, "It's OK, I don't want any trouble."
Moving Away When Being Petted
It's a little unsettling when your dog decides to back off when you try and pet it. It turns out that the dog is doing exactly what you think it's doing. It doesn't like being petted in a particular way, so it's trying to avoid it. Most dogs don't like being patted on the head or given a full-body hug, so they'll back away from people that they know will give them that kind of attention. Check out the body language on the Dalmatian in the picture to see what we mean.
Of course, a dog yawning CAN mean the same thing as a yawn in people. The dog might just be tired and needs a rest. However, if your dog is barking a lot and yawning at the same time, or just yawning over and over, it could be a bigger issue. Some dogs yawn to calm themselves down. This can be in anticipation of a good thing, as a treat. It could also be because of anxiety or nervousness.
Barking At Other Dogs - Head Up
Dogs love to assert dominance around other dogs, and they do it in all kinds of ways. A common way to assert dominance is for a dog to raise its head above other dogs while barking. This can also indicate anxiety or fear of the other dog, and your dog is just trying to get over it. If you see a lot of this, walking around with your dog on a leash can help. After all, they should view you as the most dominant dog in the pack.
Raising His Backhairs
From time to time, you may have seen your dog raise his back hair. This can be a pretty frightening sight depending on the dog. It's frightening for the dog too. This is a sign of their "fight or flight" response and a reaction to anxiety. It's called "piloerection" and it's involuntary. When humans have a "fight or flight" response, they get a rush of adrenaline and may get goosebumps. This is the same thing, but for dogs.
Whining and Crying
Dogs whine for many of the same reasons people do. They might feel hungry, lonely, or cold. They really just might want your attention for some reason. It could also be that the dog is in pain. In any event, treat your dog's whines like you would as any whine from a crying person. Find out what is happening. If you don't know what it is, comfort the dog until the anxiety has passed.
Taking Food Into The Other Room To Eat
Some dogs have the odd habit of not wanting to eat near their food dish. Instead, they'll take their food to the other room, or into a particular spot to eat it. This happens a lot with submissive dogs who are trying to protect their food from the more dominant dogs, even if there are no other dogs in the room. It can also happen with some dogs who were abused or malnourished. If an owner was the one taking the food, the dog may not want to eat around humans, even when they are friendly.
If your dog tends to lick his lips a lot, that's called a "calming signal". Dogs do this to alleviate some sort of anxiety that they're feeling. If they consider a person or another animal to be threatening or otherwise aggressive, they might lick their lips as a signal to the other animal that they aren't a threat. If you see this habit, you may want to grab your dog and calm it down. It's probably feeling threatened and needs a bit of comforting to calm down
Everyone knows not to make eye contact with an unfamiliar dog. What if it's your dog though? And what if he blinks when he looks at you? This is a good sign! Dogs often blink when making eye contact in a friendly manner, both with humans and other dogs. So if your dog looks like he's batting his eyelashes at you, it means that he likes you and feels relaxed around you. All good.
Two funny things about this behavior. Most people are embarrassed when their dog does it, and most people either think it's a sexual urge or a dominant urge. As it turns out, according to the AKC, it IS a dominant urge, most of the time. If your male dog starts doing it suddenly, and never did it before, it could be a sign of a prostate problem or some other irritation. That means he needs to go to the vet, especially if he's older.
Pointing Its Tail
A pointed tail could actually mean a lot of different things for a dog. It could mean that the dog is about to get aggressive and is "telling" you by exhibiting this behavior. It could also mean that the dog is actually pointing at some sort of target for you. This is especially common in hunting dogs like spaniels, and it's usually accompanied by lifting the front paw too.
Dogs make all kinds of funny sounds, and grunting is just one of them. If your dog grunts a lot, it's probably just an involuntary sound. Sometimes, especially when they are resting, dogs make sounds that sound like little grunts. This is the dog equivalent to a cat purr. The dog is so relaxed that its breathing pace has slowed up, but it's still making sounds. If this happens with your dog, it's a good sign that he's happy!
Dogs sniff crotches on people for the same reason they sniff the butts of other dogs. They are looking for pheromones. Humans produce pheromones most strongly in their groins, so the dog is most likely to sniff there. This is an incredibly annoying behavior for some dogs, but they can be trained not to do it. The best thing to do is to tell guests to give the dog a hand or fist to smell when they enter a new home.
Resting On The Couch
Dogs get on the couch for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it's just a comfortable place to rest, especially for older dogs. For younger dogs, it's a way of asserting dominance. When a dog is allowed to sleep in the same bed as a human, or on the same couch, that dog thinks they are equal in the pack to their humans. This can be a good or a bad thing depending on the dog.
According to the AKC, a dog who chases its own tail frequently could actually be a sign of trouble. It might just be a nervous habit, but it might also indicate a brain abnormality and it's similar to a seizure. It could also mean that the dog is trying to bite a spot that he can't reach because of some kind of irritation. If your dog is doing this a lot, it's best to take him in to see a vet. It could be a sign of trouble.
When you see your dog eating grass, you might assume that it's because it has an upset stomach. We've all been told for years that dogs do that instinctually when they have ingested something that doesn't agree with them. There is some truth to that, but most dogs do it for a different reason. They just like the texture of it. It's not particularly good or bad for them, but they just seem to enjoy it.
Rolling Around In The Dirt
It never fails. You go and give your dog a nice bath and he smells and looks great. Then you go home, let him outside, and he immediately starts rolling around in the dirt. There are multiple explanations for this behavior, but the most common one is that the dog is trying to spread its smell around. This is a less extreme version of marking territory than urination. It could also be that the dog doesn't like the shampoo and is trying to scratch itself or that it's trying to mask their new smell.
Many dogs are very affectionate, and licking can mean many things. Most of the time, you can think of these as "dog kisses" and it's your dog trying to get your attention. There's a much bigger reason though, and it's less fun. Some dogs lick because they are trying to establish dominance. If you have a dog that licks you a lot, it could be that the dog is trying to assert dominance over you or another dog in the pack.
Following You Around(Including The Bathroom)
If your dog tends to follow you around the house, there could be a million reasons why he's developed this habit. Some dogs just like to be around people all the time, which is harmless enough. Other dogs have serious separation anxiety, which is not harmless at all. If your dog follows you around a lot, it's a good sign that your dog likes you. Well, most of the time.
Tail Wagging - Fast
Dogs wag their tails for a number of reasons, but when they wag their tails quickly, it usually means that they are excited and have a lot of energy! Some dogs just get excited and a fast-wagging tail is a good indicator of their energy level. This can also be a good indicator of emotions...maybe your dog is just happy to see you!
Yuck! Why did dogs do THIS? There can be a few reasons. Puppies will often eat poop because mother dogs do this when cleaning up a new den. The puppies are just following their role model. In older dogs, it's a much bigger issue and can happen for a lot of reasons. One big one is if the dog is sick. If a dog involuntarily poops and then eats it, it's probably a sign that he is trying to clean up a mess to cover his illness. He needs to go to the vet!
A lot of people have dogs that like to chew shoes or socks. This is not only annoying, but it can get expensive too! The answer to this is pretty simple: Dogs love to chew on anything they can get their teeth on. Don't make the mistake of giving your dog a sock or shoe as a toy either. That will just make the habit even worse and it will make it harder to make them give it up later.
Sniffing Before Urinating
Dogs sniff everywhere, so why do they sniff right before they pee? As it turns out, this is another territorial behavior. Your dog is checking to make sure that no other dog has already marked his territory there. A dog always figures that it's better to do his business in a spot that hasn't been touched, or in the case of dominant dogs, trying to remark a territory that has already been marked.
Dogs get distracted in outdoor environments because there are just so many stimuli. Unlike your nice quiet house, the outside is full of smells and sights that the dog just isn't used to feeling. If your dog gets distracted all the time when it's outside, you may have to train them out of it. The hyperactive behavior can also be attributed to anxiety, so watch out for that too.
This is kind of a funny one. Dogs have very sensitive ears, but most scientists think that they hear sounds by triangulation. So, when they cock their heads, they are trying to locate the sounds and pin down exactly where they are coming from. No one has figured out the exact answer to this question though, but it's attributed to a variety of factors. Dogs know that people think it's cute, and they are rewarded for being cute, so they may do it for that reason too.
Being Happy Around The Same Breed
If you think your dog seems happier around other dogs of the same breed, you aren't imagining things. It probably is happier. Why would that be? How can they recognize dogs of the same breed? As it turns out, most dogs recognize other dogs of the same breed and associate them with their littermates. They can remember their siblings, and this makes them happy. Nostalgia rules, even for dogs!
These are just some of the habits that your dog might have. Dogs do all kinds of crazy things, and they are always valued members of the family. If you have other family members who love dogs, why not share this article with them? They'll learn a bit more about their own dogs! Thanks for reading!