If you are like the many dog parents in the world, this likely happens at least a few times a day.
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Dogs have certain behaviors, mannerisms, and habits that can be odd, even baffling at times. And no matter the breed of dog, there are certain behaviors that seem to show up in just about every dog you meet.
Where do these weird habits come from?
Of course, a lot of behaviors stem from their ancestral roots, but there are some aspects of dogs that you can’t help but wonder about. What triggers him to suddenly chase his tail? How does he know to aim for your mouth when kissing you? Does he truly love you, or does he just want you for the food you give him? Can he recognize himself the mirror? What is he actually thinking when he’s staring out the window? Does he have a name for you in his head?
Questions like these have actually fueled the research of the Duke Canine Cognitive center for years.
“The last decade of research has shown that dogs are more than mere learning machines: they have a rich understanding of their world, which allows them to be flexible problem solvers… Even though researchers from the Duke Canine Cognition Center have been studying dog cognition for over fifteen years we are only just beginning to understand the psychology of dogs.”
Dogs have very complex minds that function in ways that often exceed our understanding and the journey towards truly understanding our canine companions is ever ongoing. Dog behavior is an interesting blend of ancestral traits and human socializing tendencies and, of course, their own individual, quirky personalities. However, there are some common behaviors that can be explained!
If you want some help further understanding your fur baby and some of his odd behaviors, read on.
Howling is a common behavior in dogs that actually does stem from their wolf heritage. Wolves will howl to let other members of their pack know where they are, to mark territory, or to communicate otherwise.
When it comes to domestic dogs, however, there isn’t really a need for them to howl. It’s more of an instinct, and researchers honestly aren’t entirely sure why the habit has stuck around. According to the American Kennel Club though, “whether your dog is howling for friends, barking for fun, or baying during the hunt, it’s not so important to ask why they are doing it, but rather to listen [to] what your dog is trying to tell you.
Even if domesticated dogs don’t howl or need to howl for the same purposes as their ancestors, they may still use howling as a way to try and communicate with you. Some reasons may be pretty straightforward, but others could actually require some attention.
Some dogs can howl for attention, to warn you about potential danger, to communicate with other dogs, or to respond to odd noises, etc. These reasons aren’t much cause for concern. However, dogs can also howl due to separation anxiety (often paired with destructive behavior), depression, loneliness, or possible injury.
If your dog doesn’t seem to be howling due to depression or injury and he seems to just be wanting attention, you might need to do some tough love discipline work and not engage them when they are howling for attention. WebMD advises that you completely ignore them and avoid accidentally rewarding them for the obnoxious behavior.
If the howling seems to be due to anxiety reasons, then the anxiety may be what needs to be soothed and addressed. All dogs are different, but there are some things you can look into to help them calm down.
#2. Chasing Their Tails
If your fur baby is a puppy and starts madly going after his tail, he’s likely doing it for the reason you might expect: he’s confused. Puppies can often confuse their tail for a toy rather than an actual part of their body. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “youthful tail chasing is usually a passing phase that doesn’t require intervention.”
However, if you respond to the behavior – through laughing, for example – your fur baby might carry the habit with him into adulthood as a way to catch your attention. He might use it as an invitation for you to play with him or to express his excitement or possible restlessness to you.
If your dog does it seemingly out of nowhere and suddenly takes on the behavior (as opposed to carrying the habit with him from puppy-hood), it could be due to pent up energy, a medical condition, or even OCD.
If you make sure he is getting the proper socialization, playtime and exercise every day, then that pent up energy should die down. If it doesn’t seem to be due to energy or have any clear reason though, then you might want to consider making a vet visit to rule out any possible medical conditions. A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE discovered that dogs can also experience the same sense of obsessive compulsion that humans can, and tail chasing can be a result of that OCD for some dogs.
Dogs aren’t actually capable of recognizing themselves in the mirror, which explains why puppies especially can go nuts barking at the mirror. They most often view it as some strange oddity or even a strange dog, and since they have no idea what they’re actually looking at, they’ll bark and likely try to confront it. It can be really humorous, cute puppy behavior.
As dogs get older though, the less they typically show interest in reflections at all. Reflections become unexplained hazes and they eventually give up trying to get after them since their efforts as puppies never led to anything. It’s not any sort of behavior to be concerned about unless your dog starts jumping on the mirror, threatening to break it… at that point, intervention might be necessary.
#4. Walking In Circles Before Lying Down
This is another behavior that actually stems from a dog’s wolf heritage. In the wild, wolves don’t have the same cushioning and luxuries that domestic dogs have, so it can often take them a minute to find a good position to sleep and settle down.
Leslie Irvine, a sociologist who specializes in animal behavior, told LiveScience, “this behavior was hard-wired into the dog’s ancestors as a way to build a safe ‘nest…’ In the wild, the circling would flatten grasses or snow and would drive out any snakes or large insects. I have also heard that circling the area and thus flattening it leaves a visible sign to other dogs that this territory has been claimed.”
Circling can also be a canine paternal instinct, like wolves and other wild dogs will want to create a safe and comfortable napping and sleeping place for their babies in dens, etc. Luckily for your little fur baby, he doesn’t have to actually worry about creating his own bed as he likely has his own bed to find comfort.
Has your fur baby ever laid on your feet while you were getting ready to leave? Or does he curl around your legs while you’re out on your daily walk? What about curling up right next to you at night, regardless of if it’s hot or cold?
According to Patty Khuly, VMD, “some animal behavior authorities would have you believe your dog is trying to dominate you with her weight,” she mentioned in a vetstreet.com video. “Others might say you’re being manipulated by a poorly socialized, misbehaving suck-up who knows just how to push your buttons.”
The truth is though, your fur baby is likely not trying to dominate you, but rather show you affection in his own odd, seemingly clingy way. More often then not, dogs love to cuddle and be close to you and making physical contact can help them feel grounded and secure.
Though this touchy nature can risk you tripping at times, it ends up being quite adorable and sweet of your pet.
#6. The Old Booty Scoot
Though it can be funny behavior, if your dog is scooting his booty across the floor, it could be either a sign he needs a trip to the groomers or is experiencing some health issues, which could require veterinary attention if the behavior persists.
More specifically, dogs have these two glands located in their anus that gives their poop a certain scent, the scent that gives each dog a unique and identifying odor to help them mark territory and defend what’s theirs. This is often the smell that seems so intriguing to other dogs as they sniff each other’s butts.
Sometimes these glands can get clogged or overfilled and become super itchy, triggering the dog to scoot his butt across the ground. Depending on the severity, a groomer can help give some relief or a trip to the vet might be necessary to make sure it’s nothing more serious. Either way, the behavior does require some attention and shouldn’t just be ignored – how would you feel with a severely itchy butt all day?
Does your dog ever run up to you and try to sneak some big, slobbery kisses, often aiming right for your mouth? This often repulses most people who have never parented a dog, but for full-time dog parents, it can be very cute if still gross behavior.
There are a few possible explanations for this behavior. One of the biggest reason is that sort of face licking is a sign of submission. According to Khuly in her article for Miami Herald, “dogs lick each others’ faces, particularly around the mouth, by way of indicating that they’re of a lower social status. These social cues are important for dogs in a pack setting to help establish a solid social structure with a minimum of pack-destabilizing strife.”
Doggy kisses can also stem from parental instincts to care for hygiene in their babies or fellow “pack members.” Since human-dog relationships can resemble pack mentality to some degree, it makes sense why this sort of instinctual behavior can carry over.
And, of course, doggy kisses can also be a sign of affection coming from your canine companion. After centuries of developing a relationship with mankind, dogs have definitely learned to associate the motion with love and care. How can you not smile and feel just a bit better getting a sneak kiss from your pup?
Has your dog ever stared directly at you with the most earnest expression in his eyes, maybe wagging his tail along with it? This expression of longing is exactly what it looks like: love, affection, and possible want of cuddling.
One of the most notable forging factors of relationships between people and dogs is the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone” known as oxytocin.
“Comparisons of humans and dogs before and after they interact with each other have revealed notable increases in circulating oxytocin … in both species,” explained Evan L. MacLean and Brian Hare, anthropologists and researchers at Duke Canine Cognition Center. “In addition, exogenous administration of oxytocin causes dogs to initiate more social contact with other dogs and humans, and allows dogs to tune into human social cues even more faithfully,” they continued in Science Magazine.
This apparent flow of oxytocin in both humans and their canine companions creates a feedback loop, which means human and dog both influence and boost the oxytocin levels in the other, which essentially increases the bond between the two. There has been studies and research that have looked into this phenomenon and confirmed that it contributes to what brings a human and a dog closer together.
They also have observed wolves and humans for the same phenomenon and behavior and it interestingly is only apparent between domesticated dogs and their parents, which means it’s something that has likely developed and evolved in the human-dog relationship over time.
This is not to be confused with hard stares that indicate aggression of course, if your dog is staring at you with that particular look of earnestness and affection in his eyes, then you know that your bond with your fur baby is likely one you could never find anywhere else.
At the end of the day, dogs may be one of the most incredible, yet baffling and sometimes humorous creatures known to man. From what we can tell, they are one of the purest examples of love and companionship we have had the fortune of coming to know. Be sure to give your fur baby a kiss tonight and remember how lucky you are to parent that little (or not so little) fluff ball. You’ll never find any other companion quite like him!