Our dogs. We love them, teach them, dress them up with cool accessories, and wholeheartedly welcome them into our families as the lovable, furry kids that they are. But every so often, they do something that leaves us scratching our heads in bewilderment and wondering, What in the world are they thinking?
Here are some common perplexing dog behaviors decoded.
Why Does My Dog…
1. Find a pile of the nastiest stuff available and roll around in it?
There are several theories as to why dogs do this. Some experts believe it’s an instinctual behavior left over from when dogs wanted to cover their own scent (thus making themselves smell as unlike a dog as possible) in order to sneak up on potential prey. Others believe that dogs are acting territorially and may want to mark over a strong scent with their own smell.
But the simplest explanation may be that dogs just have a different idea of what smells interesting than we do. To them, scent is everything…and rolling around in something stinky allows them to revel in the scent. You know, like that guy 2 cubicles down who always seems to be doused in Aramis.
2. Sometimes show her teeth when I know she is friendly and wouldn’t hurt a fly?
A dog who is showing her front teeth, squinting her eyes, lowering her body, relaxing her ears, and wagging her tail is not a threat…she is smiling! Sometimes called “submissive grinning”, this behavior is a tactic that some dogs employ to either appease humans or to solicit attention in a non-threatening manner, and it’s not at all aggressive.
A dog who is showing aggression, on the other hand, will have a hard stare (eyes wide open and staring intently), tension in her body, whiskers forward, body upright, and may be licking her lips and pinning her ears back tightly against her head. It goes without saying that it’s important to know the difference!
Not all dogs submissively grin, but if your dog does, it’s helpful to let visitors to your home know ahead of time so they don’t misinterpret the smiling for aggression.
3. Scoot across the carpet or sidewalk on his rear end?
Although it may look amusing (just do a search for “butt scooting dogs” on YouTube), butt dragging has a medical cause. Dogs have two glands underneath their tails on either side of the anus called anal glands, which are filled with a distinctive, strong-smelling fluid that is unique to every dog. This helps the dog mark territory and leave a distinctive “calling card” to identify himself to other dogs whenever he defecates.
Sometimes the anal glands can become overly full or impacted, causing swelling and discomfort. A dog with very full anal glands will scoot along hard surfaces in an attempt to relieve this discomfort and/or express the glands (not AT ALL desirable when this occurs on your carpet). Luckily, if your dog’s anal glands become too full or impacted, your veterinarian or groomer can manually express them for you.
Although expressing anal glands is something you can learn to do yourself at home, it takes a certain technique to pull it off without foul-smelling and messy consequences. You might just want to trust me on this one!
4. Bow down on her front legs and leave her rear end up in the air?
If your dog faces you, bows down, and points her rear-end skyward while wagging her tail, she is doing her best to entice you to play. It’s called a “puppy” or “play” bow, and it always brings a smile to my face whenever I see it. As we all know, dogs can be real clowns, and the puppy bow is just one way dogs can communicate their joy for playing and acting silly.
Your dog may also puppy bow if she accidentally body slams another dog while playing. In this scenario, it’s used as a “Sorry, my bad…can we please keep playing?” gesture. Dogs also employ the puppy bow with other dogs to communicate that they are friendly and not a threat.
So if you really want to make your dog happy, initiate a puppy bow of your own. Get down on all fours, extend your arms out in front of you, smile, and keep your rear end in the air. Then watch your dog’s face light up!
5. Turn around in circles before lying down?
This natural, instinctive behavior is another carry-over from dogs’ days in the wild. Ancestral wild dogs prepared their own shelters by selecting a chosen spot, digging at it with their paws, circling a few times to help flatten down any grass or plant material, and lowering their bodies into a tight position to fit into the nest.
Your dog might repeat this process a few times before finally settling down, akin to us fluffing our pillows before we go to sleep.
6. Lick a specific spot on his paw or leg until it’s raw?
Some dogs develop a repetitive behavior where they obsessively lick one area (usually the top of a front leg or paw, but the area can be anywhere on the body) until the skin becomes raw. The resulting irritated spot is called a “lick granuloma” (also referred to as “Acral Lick Dermatitis”).
This behavior may be caused by a host of possible factors. Boredom, separation anxiety, and/or stress can cause repeated licking to develop as a soothing behavior, similar to OCD behaviors in humans. Joint pain may also cause the dog to lick over the painful joint. Skin allergies may also be a culprit, as dogs will attempt to relieve itchy skin by licking it.
Lick granulomas can become infected and painful. Unfortunately, once that happens, it becomes a vicious cycle and causes the dog to lick even more because the skin is irritated. Chronic lick granulomas can scab over multiple times to become thick, scar-like lesions.
If your dog has what you suspect to be a lick granuloma, make an appointment to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. There are many different types of treatments available depending on the individual case, and your vet can help you develop the right treatment protocol for your dog.
7. Sniff the crotches of my guests?
Although this behavior can be mortifying for pet parents, in the dog world it is actually very polite! Sniffing is a way for dogs to both greet each other and gather information. Through sniffing of another dog’s anal glands, your dog can quickly determine not only the age and sex of that dog, but also nuances such as his mood and what he’s been up to all day.
Therefore, it’s natural for your dog to want to do that with humans as well. Squelching this behavior is not easy, since it’s so ingrained in most dogs. The easiest way to discourage it is by teaching a good sit-stay to use with your dog whenever visitors come to the door. It’s important to not punish your dog for exhibiting this behavior…rather, you can reward him for the sit-stay (and for not “goosing” your guests!)
8. Eat grass?
Although no one knows for sure why dogs eat grass, there are several theories.
Grass contains nutrients such as amino acids, enzymes, and Vitamins E and B, which may help aid in digestion. It’s also an excellent source of fiber. Since dogs typically have diets high in protein, fiber from grass may help move things more easily through their digestive tracts.
Another theory is that dogs may instinctively eat grass when they feel nauseous to intentionally irritate their stomach lining and cause them to throw up whatever offending substance they ate.
However, I am most inclined to believe that dogs eat grass for the simple reason that they like the taste and enjoy chewing on it. Many dogs actually seem to have preferences for certain types of grass, and will seek them out mainly because they taste good.
So there’s no need to worry when your dog eats grass… eating grass will not harm her, as long as it has not been treated with herbicides or pesticides.
See? It all makes perfect sense…at least to our dogs! So when your dog does something that leaves you scratching your head, remember: the next time we spend $10 for the reindeer horns that we insist on affixing to our dogs’ heads for those cute holiday Facebook photos, our dogs just might be looking at us and wondering the same thing. 🙂
What other behaviors does your dog exhibit that make you go “Huh?” Share them with us in the comments below!