Dogs are joyful, playful creatures that make the lives of their owners a little brighter, with just their presence. If you are a dog owner, you are one of the 43,346,000 households in the United States that own at least one. Curious to observe, the behavior of dogs can often be entertaining and sometimes quite frustrating. Doggy parents might be left wondering at times, “Is my dog’s behavior normal?” The purpose of this guide is to identify the most common behaviors of dogs, outlining the causes and presenting you with different ways of dealing with these behaviors, if necessary.
Curious Canine Behaviors
Let’s begin by discussing some of the more laughable behaviors that our canine friends exhibit from time to time.
- Tail Chasing: Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows! What is behind this frantic behavior? Experts say not to worry, your dog is most likely just doing this to expend excess energy. With that said, if your dog does this constantly, there may be an underlying health problem such as anal gland problems or flea allergy dermatitis.
- Lickety Split!: Why do dogs lick humans? There are several reasons, but the main one is that they simply do it to communicate their affection. When your dog licks you, pleasurable endorphins are released that work to calm and comfort them. Another reason dogs lick us is that they simply like the way that our skin tastes. If your dog is licking you and won’t stop, she may be trying to communicate something to you, so make sure she has everything she needs.
- Ewww… Eating Poo: If you have a dog that has picked up this undesirable habit, it could be happening for a few different reasons. He may be hungry or missing key nutrients from his diet. Another possibility is that is simply likes the smell and the taste of it. If your dog continues to do this, it is best to get advice from your veterinarian.
- Humping: Whether your dog is humping your friend’s leg or another dog, it is something that can be quite embarrassing for you. If your dog humps, it may simply be because they are seeking attention or are excited. The best way to handle it is to ignore it, or try redirecting your dog with a toy or treat.
- Butt Sniffing: When your dog sniffs another dog’s rear end, it is completely normal. To make a comparison, it is just like humans shaking hands with each other. A dog’s sense of smell is over 10,000 times more acute than ours. Your dog is able to mentally connect with lots of information about the other dog from sniffing his rear.
- Eating Grass: One small scale study found that 79% of dogs eat grass at one time or another. Most veterinarians agree that this is a relatively harmless activity. Why do dogs eat grass? Many don’t agree on the answer. Some say that dogs do this to make an upset stomach feel better, as this may cause vomiting. It is also speculated that eating grass helps improve digestion, treats intestinal worms, or helps to meet a specific nutritional need. Others believe that dogs eat grass simply because they like the way grass tastes and feels.
- Kicking up Grass: Does your dog kick up the grass after pooping? This curious little behavior is actually quite normal. This is a way that dogs mark their territory. It turns out that all dogs have pheromone-secreting glands in their feet, so a few scratches into the ground gives your dog another means of staking claim on their property.
One thing is clear. Just like you, your canine friend wants to be heard!
An inherent quality in dogs, barking is considered desirable or undesirable, depending on who you ask. For someone who uses their canine as a watchdog, barking acts as an ideal way to alarm an owner of potential danger. However, most can agree that a dog who barks excessively is simply a nuisance.
Dogs bark for many different reasons. If a dog barks to get attention, he may decide barking is also a great way to get other things that he wants, like food, play and walks. This is why it is important to train your dog to be quiet on cue. If you want your dog to bark less, it is important to determine why he is barking in the first place.
- Barking at a Passerby: Try closing the curtains or putting your dog in a room where he cannot see out of the window. If he is barking at others while he is outside, bring him into the house.
- Barking While Confined: When it is time to put your dog into his crate or in a gated room, simply turn your back and ignore him. Once the barking stops, turn around, praise him and reward him with a treat.
- Barking at Other Dogs: The Humane Society recommends giving your dog treats whenever another dog comes into view, and then stopping when the dog comes out of view.
- Barking Because Someone Is at the Door: One method is to toss a treat on his mat and tell him to “go to your bed.” If he gets up, close the door right away. Repeat this action until he stays on his mat while the door opens.
Howling is another form of vocalization that dogs often enjoy. They do it to attract attention, make contact with others and to announce their presence. Some dogs also howl to mimic sounds they hear in their environment such as musical instruments or ambulances. Here are some other reasons your dog may howl.
- Howling When You Are at Work: This may be caused by separation anxiety, which is a behavioral issue you will need to take steps to deal with.
- Medical Reasons: Some dogs will howl excessively when they are hurt or sick. If your dog is howling a lot, it is wise to take him to a vet to rule this out.
- To Get Your Attention: If your dog’s howling has become more of an annoyance than entertainment, be sure to ignore him when he howls. Give him treats after he is quiet again, after at least 5 seconds.
Chewing, Digging and Jumping
It is completely normal for dogs and puppies to chew on objects, as it is in their very nature. Dogs chew to keep their jaws strong and their teeth clean. However, dogs also chew to combat boredom and relieve mild anxiety or frustration. If Fido chews up your brand new pair of shoes or fancy sofa pillows, uh oh!
Here are some common problems that cause destructive chewing.
- Separation Anxiety: Once again, your dog may feel anxious about being left alone. Other signs of separation anxiety include whining, barking, pacing, restlessness, urination and defecation.
- Hunger: Some dogs, especially if their diet is calorie-restricted may chew and destroy objects in hopes of getting additional nutrition.
- Teething: In the case of puppies, teething is the main reason for destructive chewing. They also want to investigate interesting objects. To help puppies that are teething, some recommend giving puppies ice cubes to chew on.
Tips to Stop a Dog From Chewing
- Provide an Alternative: Give your dog plenty of his own toys and inedible chew bones to enjoy. Avoid giving your dog real bones such as chicken bones as they can splinter in your dog’s stomach and cause him real harm.
- Food-Filled Puzzle Toys: Give your dog a food puzzle toy during times of the day when he is most likely to chew.
- Spray on a Chewing Deterrent: Spray a chewing deterrent on all objects that you don’t want your dog to chew.
- Supervision is Key: If you see your dog chewing something he shouldn’t, say “uh-oh”, remove it from his mouth and replace it with something he is allowed to chew.
- Don’t Confuse Your Dog: Avoid giving him unwanted household items to chew on. You are sending him mixed messages if you offer him an old pair of shoes as a chew toy.
- Exercise: Sometimes a dog just isn’t getting enough physical and mental stimulation. A dog that is bored may simply be looking for something to keep him entertained. Be sure to provide plenty of ways to challenge your dog’s body and mind.
Why Do Dogs Dig?
A dog may dig to try and get warmer or conversely, create a space that is cooler to them. Dogs may also dig to entertain themselves, to bury something or to hunt animals living in the ground. Dogs often dig at the ground and circle around before lying down, which is an instinctual way of trying to make themselves more comfortable. Another reason your dog may be digging is that he could have separation anxiety and is trying to escape being left alone. Other dogs who are confined may also be digging to try and escape.
Ways to Get a Dog to Stop Digging
- If your dog is digging to cool off, provide an insulated dog house, shade, a fan or a shallow wading pool.
- If your dog is digging to try and keep warm, an insulated dog house will also help. Another option is to provide extra blanket or a cozier bed for her to burrow into.
- If your dog is digging to keep himself entertained, your best bet may be to simply allocate a small area of your yard where you allow him to dig.
- If your dog is digging to bury his bones or treats, the best way to handle it is to stop giving him treats that cannot be finished immediately.
- Don’t lead your dog to an area where he dug a hole and scold or punish him for it. Your dog doesn’t mentally connect being punished for something he did hours ago.
Jumping on People
It is completely natural for a dog to jump up on people in an attempt to say hello. Dogs naturally try to sniff each other’s faces, so when they jump on us, they are trying to reach ours. If you want to get your dog to stop jumping up on you, the key is to ignore them when they do it. Keep your attention and your hands away from your dog if her front legs are not on the floor. As soon as your dog puts her front paws on the floor, it is time to shower her with affection.
Begging, Counter-surfing and Garbage Raiding
Begging at the Dinner Table
So you have just cooked a wonderful dinner, and the aroma is permeating the air. It should be no surprise that your dog may become enticed by it. When it is time to eat, you may find your dog is at your feet begging for whatever he can get. If begging becomes a problem in your home, here are some things you can do to prevent it.
Tips to Prevent Begging
- Use a baby gate to confine your dog to another room when it is time to sit down for a meal. If your dog is crate trained, put her in her crate. In either case, provide her with a chew bone or a food-filled toy to keep her busy and happy.
- Teach your dog to go to her bed and stay there.
- Don’t give your dog scraps of food from the table.
- Don’t yell at your dog for begging. Even negative attention can cause your dog to keep doing it more.
Counter-surfing and Getting in the Garbage
Another favorite habit of some dogs is to grab food from the kitchen counters or get into the trash can looking for tasty tidbits. If your dog learns that he can access food in these places, he is likely to keep looking there for it.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Counter-surfing and Garbage Raiding
- Always put your leftovers away.
- Keep countertop foods in resealable containers.
- Keep your trash can in a closed cupboard, or use a trash can that has a lid you have to remove with your hands.
- Set up a baby gate at the entrance of your kitchen.
- Use an invisible pet barrier to keep your dog away from problem areas.
- Feed your dog several small meals a day to help keep him feeling full and satisfied.
- Make sure your dog isn’t acting out of boredom. Provide plenty of exercise and chew toys to keep him occupied.
- React immediately when you see him jumping on counters or nudging at the trash can. Clap your hands loudly and say, “Off!”
- Don’t scold or punish your dog if you catch him eating stolen food. He won’t make the connection unless you actually catch him in the process of stealing the food.
Aggression in Dogs
When we speak of aggression in dogs, this term refers to a wide variety of behaviors that may happen for many different reasons in a variety of different circumstances. Aggression can begin with warning behaviors that may end in some form of attack. To understand your dog’s behavior, it is important to identify the target of her aggressiveness. Some studies report that as much as 60 to 70 percent of all pet dogs bark threateningly at strangers and don’t act friendly around them.
Examples of Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
- Becoming very still and rigid
- Threatening bark
- Charging at a person
- Using the muzzle to punch a person
- Bearing the teeth
- Snapping or nipping
- Single or repeated biting
Social Aggression Triggers
For dogs that are prone to aggressive behavior, there are certain actions which may trigger an aggressive response.
- Taking food or a chew bone away
- Moving the dog while he is resting
- Forcing the dog into a submissive position
- Jerking or pulling the dog’s leash
- Hitting or attempting to hit the dog
- Verbally scolding the dog
By nature, some animals like wolves are more territorial than others. They are kings of their castle, and are ready to defend any intruder that approaches. Some dogs have these territorial instincts bred within them.
Protective aggression occurs when the dog believes one of their pack or family members is being threatened or harmed. A dog may practice protective aggression when a stranger comes near her litter of puppies. This behavior can even happen when a new baby is brought into the family. While protective aggression seems like a positive thing, it can be troublesome if the dog treats everyone outside of the immediate family as a potential threat.
Some dogs have an instinctual need to guard their food and possessions from others. These dogs may react aggressively when someone approaches them while they are eating or tries to take their food bowl. Other dogs may guard their toys, their chew bones or their favorite resting spots.
You have heard of the fight or flight response. If a dog becomes afraid and there is nowhere for them to retreat to, they may choose to fight instead. If the dog becomes cornered or trapped, she may feel her only option is to fight. A dog that is afraid may display behavior such as coming up from behind and nipping at the person and then running away.
This type of aggression happens when the dog is excited about the prospect of getting something they want, but they are held back from having it. Within this category are dogs that react aggressively when restrained. Some dogs who are otherwise friendly may react aggressively when put behind a gate, in a cage or crate or on a leash.
Even if a dog is otherwise gentle and friendly, she can behave aggressively if she is experiencing pain. Even if a dog is hurt and you are attempting to treat her, she may bite if there is pain or an infection present.
Many dogs display classic canine predatory behaviors such as running toward and grabbing things that are moving very fast. Some dogs display this behavior by chasing running people, people on bicycles or speeding cars. This includes when dogs chase other pets and wildlife. The danger is that sometimes when they catch what they were chasing, they will bite.
The Breed Factor
Statistically, there are particular dog breeds that are more prone to biting and aggression than others. It is true that certain breeds may be more predisposed to aggression, because historically, certain breeds of dogs have been utilized for their fighting skills, for example. In some cases, aggression exists in their DNA. However, the ASPCA advises that it is unwise to judge a dog simply by their breed. A better indicator of whether they will be aggressive or not include the dog’s individual temperament and her history of interacting with those in her environment.
Is Aggression Curable?
It is possible that the frequency of some types of aggression can be reduced or eliminated, through specific behavior modification techniques. With that being said, there is no guarantee that a dog who displays aggressive behavior will be completely cured. Often times, the best course of action is to limit a dog’s exposure to those situations or people that cause her to become aggressive. If your dog has a problem with aggression, the ASPCA recommends getting professional help from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in animal aggression.
Just like people, dogs have many desirable qualities, and a few undesirable ones as well. Some behaviors are curious, others are predictable. No matter what behaviors your dog is currently practicing, giving him or her the love, support and guidance that they crave is sure to enrich the lives of both you and your precious pooch.