Why Do Dogs Do… ?
Why do dogs do the things they do? What makes them tick?
If you’re proudly owned by a canine companion, yours has probably done something that left you scratching your head from time to time, wondering why on earth dogs do, well, whatever it is they’re doing!
Well, wonder no more, because we’ve rounded up everything that confuses dog owners about their furry friends, and put together a definitive guide that helps explain all the finer quirks of man’s best friend.
Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
This really is the million dollar question, and if asked, most people would guess it’s to make them vomit (despite the fact this only happens with a small number of dogs).
While that’s the most common answer from good old Google, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that there isn’t actually any scientific research that backs that theory up.
It’s definitely a common trait (around 79% of dogs do it), so why do they do it? The answer is, we don’t really know for sure.
Dogs are natural scavengers (some more than others!) so the texture and/or taste is probably attractive to them, plus it gives them something to do to pass the time.
While there’s no real nutritional value in grass, it’s not something that will harm your dog either.
Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?
It’s not just because it makes us go awwwwwwww!
By repositioning their ears to pick up sounds coming from different directions, as well as helping them to concentrate on audio cues, tilting their heads can help dogs to hear better.
That being said, the cuddle, ear rub or treat we give them when they do it, simply because we do find it cute, acts as positive reinforcement, and they’re likely to repeat the behavior for no reason other than to get the good stuff that follows.
Why Do Dogs Bark in Their Sleep?
Quite simply – they’re dreaming!
You might also experience them growling, whimpering, twitching and moving their legs like they’re running, all in their sleep.
Scientists have studied dogs’ brainwaves while they sleep and confirmed they do in fact dream, just like humans do.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
This one’s not quite so cute, but many dog owners probably recognize this unsettling behavior, known as coprophagia.
The actual reason for it varies, from the typical canine trait of scavenging, to how they’d keep their ‘den’ clean in the wild – poop attract predators, so adult dogs would have to dispose of it to keep themselves and their pups safe.
There might be a physical reason for it though; it can be a sign that a dog isn’t getting the right nutrition in its diet (vitamin B in particular), so it’s always best to try to rule that out as a cause first.
Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?
Similarly to eating their own poop, cat poop contains tasty (to dogs anyway!) fats and proteins, and if you have cat litter trays in your home, it’s like a tempting buffet for a dog that likes to scavenge.
Eating another species’ poop can have more serious consequences than a dog’s own, as there can be harmful bacteria and parasites found in cat poop.
The most effective way of stopping your dog eating your cat’s poop inside is to clean the litter box as soon as your cat uses it, but of course that isn’t always possible. Alternatively, try to limit your dog’s access to the litter box by putting it somewhere your dog can’t get to it.
Why Do Dogs Lick People?
Licking is another huge part of canine communication, and something that dogs learn as puppies when they’re licked by their mother as they’re born.
Dogs lick people to say ‘hi’, to say ‘I’m hungry’, or just ‘hey, I’m here!’.
You’ll probably notice a dog sniffing you before licking you, because it’s all part of the sensory experience for them.
Why Do Dogs Lick Faces?
This might well be your least favorite spot that your dog licks, but consider it a sign of affection!
Either that, or your dog’s trying to tell you it’s dinner time – when puppies are young and reliant on their mother to feed them, they’ll often lick her mouth to tell her they’re hungry and she needs to regurgitate some food to feed them.
You’re probably fine just opening a can of doggy chow though.
Why Do Dogs Lick Feet?
Dogs lick people’s feet for the same reasons as above, but it’s even more satisfying as our feet tend to sweat more (sorry, but it’s true!), so they’re a source of even more interesting tastes, smells and of course salt from the sweat.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
Dogs licking their paws is just normal grooming behavior to a point. However, excessive licking, biting or chewing on their paws can indicate a problem.
Physical causes of excessive paw licking could include irritation from allergies, a splinter or thorn in a paw, pain from an injury or some type of skin disease.
It could even be psychological, caused by boredom or stress.
Even if you can’t see a physical problem, if your dog starts to over-groom anywhere on its body, it’s important to make a veterinary appointment.
Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?
While they’re definitely not in the same league as cats when it comes to grooming, dogs do groom themselves as a natural behavior.
However, obsessive grooming, as mentioned above, and/or concentrating solely on one part of their body does suggest a problem.
As well as possible physical issues, over-grooming can be caused by stress, boredom, or poor grooming (particularly in longer haired dogs).
Dogs that aren’t groomed properly can end up with tangles and mats in their hair that attract moisture and bacteria, irritating the skin underneath.
Why Do Dogs Circle and Dig Before Laying Down?
Despite being confusing when your dog starts turning in circles and trying to dig up your best carpet before nap time, it’s actually a very natural behavior.
In the wild, a dog wouldn’t have the comfort of a doggy bed or cozy rug in front of the fire, just dirt, grass and probably a cold ground, so he or she would walk in a circle where they wanted to sleep to warm up the ground, and stamp down any grass or plants in the way.
They’d then dig into the earth to form a nest to regulate their body temperature – getting deeper into the cool earth in hot weather, and using earth to keep them warm in colder weather.
Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?
Dogs’ tails are a fantastic communication tool.
If you try to picture a happy dog, what do you see? A wagging tail, of course.
A dog wagging its tail isn’t necessarily a happy dog though, because this form of canine body language can signify other strong emotions including distress and aggression.
For example, if you spot a dog with a tail that’s held high and wagging in such small motions that it’s almost like vibrations, it signifies threatening or aggressive behavior.
That’s why it’s always important to look at a dog’s body language as a whole, for example facial expression and ear position, before making the decision to approach or pet it.
Why Do Dogs Bark, Howl and Whine?
This is like asking why we talk, shout and sing!
Once again, it’s all about communication. Their barks are letting you, or other dogs, know what’s up.
It might be that they’re hungry, greeting you, ready to play or responding to external stimulus (like the mailman!).
They also have a genetic urge to howl as a way of announcing whey they are to their pack (and the neighborhood).
If your neighbors start to complain that your dog’s howling while you’re not in, however, it could be a sign of separation anxiety – they’re feeling abandoned and trying to find you!
Why Do Female Dogs Hump?
It’s easier to understand male dogs humping, but it’s a common behavior in female dogs too.
Humping and mounting is often a learned behavior, so even though a female dog doesn’t have the right ‘equipment’, she still might hump your leg, the couch or another dog in the same way as a male dog would.
It might be a sign or boredom, stress or just a learned habit, but irritation from urinary tract infections can be relieved by the humping action (UTIs are also often accompanied by licking of the genital area), so if in doubt, make that appointment.
Another reason why both male and female dogs may hump is to display or assert their dominance.
Or maybe your leg just smells really good!
Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?
The whiskers that dogs have on their muzzles and above their eyes are a type of hair called vibrissae, with a rich nerve supply at the base that connects directly to the brain.
This sensitivity lets them navigate through their environment using the touch of their whiskers, and whiskers are in fact so sensitive that they can detect the change in air currents, so they can ‘read’ the shape of objects in the distance, and in the dark!
Why are Dogs’ Noses Wet?
The moisture level of a dog’s nose changes depending on a whole heap of reasons, so don’t panic if your dog doesn’t have the stereotypical cold, wet doggy nose all the time.
As fantastic trackers, dogs’ noses secrete a mucus when they’re tracking a scent which helps them to draw in and store a particular scent, they also pick up moisture from the ground when they’re sniffling and snuffling along, and they of course sweat through their noses (see panting below).
Why Do Dogs Pant?
A dog panting s usually a way for them to cool down – we breathe heavily after exercise (some of us even pant!), so imagine what it would be like if we had all that thick hair over our bodies.
We can sweat through our skin, but dogs can’t because of their coats, so they sweat through their paw pads and nose and pant to increase airflow, as a means of cooling their bodies down.
As with many behaviors excessive panting can be a cause for concern, possibly indicating heatstroke, stress or pain, so if you’re dog’s panting is starting to concern you, a visit to the veterinarian is always a good idea.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?
Dogs wouldn’t naturally eat dirt in the wild, so it could be that they’ve just picked up a tase for it as part and parcel of their grass eating habits, and don’t forget that a lot of dogs exhibit scavenging behavior.
There are certain behavioral issues behind dirt eating, mainly boredom, so it’s important to give your dog plenty of exercise and stimulation if you think this might be the case.
Why Do Dogs Throw Up?
As we’ve already talked about, certain breeds of dog, and indeed certain individual dogs, seem to be natural scavengers, so a lot of the time it’s a case of eating something (or a few somethings) that just didn’t agree with them, or even eating too fast.
Saying that, it could also be gastrointestinal problems that need to be examined by a veterinarian, or they might have eaten something toxic.
There are a number of other number of other health issues – ranging from mild to severe – that could cause your dog to throw up, and any chronic vomiting (vomiting that lasts more than a couple of days, even if intermittent) should be investigated as soon as possible.
Why Do Dogs Get Hiccups?
Hiccups in your dog could again be down to eating habits, eating too fast forces air into the dog’s body and causes the diaphragm to spasm, and these spasms cause hiccups.
Those spasms can also be caused by stress or excitement, which are causes just as difficult to avoid!
Hiccups are actually fairly common in puppies, which leads experts to believe that it’s a natural reaction, something that happens in the womb to exercise a dog’s lungs and strengthen certain muscles.
Why Do Dogs Drool?
Doggy drool appears when dogs start producing so much saliva (which is needed to help break down food) that it starts to leak out of their mouth (yum!).
If you’ve ever experienced a drooling dog shaking its head right next to you, you’ll know exactly how much some of them can produce.
Never experienced that particular delight? Try to avoid it if you can!
The drooliest dogs tend to have loose jowls and lips, because they have more space in that area, and it’s easier for them to leak drool.
If your dog suddenly starts to drool more excessively, it could be a sign of dental or mouth problems, or even something more serious like a tumor, so a veterinary check-up is always recommended.
Why Do Dogs Run Away?
Many dogs are happy homebodies, so why do some dogs constantly try to run away?
Is it because they’re unhappy?
While that’s what a lot of owners unhappily assume, just because a dog is a ‘runner’, it doesn’t mean that the owners are doing anything wrong, or that the dog’s unhappy.
In fact, running, roaming and chasing anything that moves is in a lot of dogs’ genetic makeup, and it’s usually a case of more training to nip it in the bud.
Sometimes dogs will roam looking for a mate (which is just one of the many important reasons to neuter!), but on the whole a dog that runs is looking for adventure and stimulation.
Why Do Dogs Dig Holes and Bury Things?
When looking for a reason for dogs burying things (their favorite toy, a juicy bone etc.), it’s important to think about how their lives would be in the wild.
If they had an excess of food, leaving it out in the open would not only put it at risk of being eaten by a rival, but also draw competitors and predators to the dog’s location through scent.
Even though our dogs are now domesticated pets, their natural instincts to dig and bury are still there.
Why Do Dogs Cough, Sneeze and Reverse-Sneeze?
The odd cough or sneeze isn’t usually anything to worry about, as like us, dogs can be affected by their environment and react accordingly.
If your dog is consistently coughing and sneezing however, and has other symptoms such as lethargy and a fever, it’s important to go to the veterinarian to rule out illnesses like dog flu.
The reverse sneeze is also known as paroxysmal respiration, and involves the dog gasping air inwards, rather than expelling air as in a ‘normal’ sneeze. It can certainly be upsetting for owners to witness if they don’t know what it is, but on its own can simply be a reaction to an irritant such as pollen.
Why Do Dogs Pee on Things?
There’s a difference between a dog having an accident (normal peeing) and urine marking, and it’s important to know the difference.
Dogs with urinary tract infections or that are getting older might have accidents when they can’t contain their bladders, but urine marking is a territorial issue.
Dogs often urine mark when they reach sexual maturity (another reason why neutering is so important), but they also do it if they feel insecure in their home territory.
Hopefully we’ve covered your most burning questions about dog behavior, and you’ll see that the majority of things that we find bizarre are actually part of a dog’s natural make-up.
As your dog’s best friend, you’ll probably be first to notice any significant behavioral changes, so if you notice anything particularly strange about your dog’s behavior, especially something new, make sure that you make an appointment to see your veterinarian, to rule out any health issues.
Other than that, embrace your dog’s individuality!