Trainers Explain the Weirdest Dog Behaviors


Answer to the behaviors we humans just can’t understand

The Experts

Karen S. Okura, CPDT-KA, Collins Canine, Inc., CollinsCanine.com


Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA, FetchFind, FetchFind.com


Why does my dog eat poop?

This is a common question from dog parents. The act of eating feces is referred to as coprophagia, and despite the research and information about it, the reality is that nobody quite understands exactly why dogs do it. This behavior could be the result of a medical issue, so it’s important to schedule a visit to your veterinarian. If there is a medical reason, most treatments will effectively prevent the continued unwanted behavior.

If physical health is not the cause, there are a variety of other reasons. For some dogs, it’s a way to get attention. Sometimes negative attention is better than no attention at all. For other dogs, it’s a learned behavior. Perhaps they saw another dog do it and decided to copy them.

Other dogs may eat poop out of boredom or even stress. Take a close look at your dog’s lifestyle and think like a detective. Perhaps increasing physical and mental exercise is necessary. Or perhaps there’s something causing your dog anxiety. Did you recently get another pet? Did a new person move in? Did you change your pet’s routine? Seek the guidance of a trained behavior specialist to help you assess the situation and make the necessary modifications.

Feces eating is a common behavior of dogs who were raised in puppy mills. Being forced to live in such horrific, dirty conditions may cause some dogs to eat feces in an effort to keep their area clean, or in some cases, because it was the only thing available to eat. A clean environment coupled with consistent access to water and nutritious food should curb the need for this unwanted behavior.

And sometimes, despite everything, some dogs just seem to enjoy it. One of my dogs only eats feces when it is frozen, so we know to watch her more carefully in the winter when she is on the hunt for “poopsicles”!

Bottom line, once you are sure it’s not a medical issue, vigilant management is your best option. Be sure to scoop the poop immediately, removing any “tasty treats” from your dog’s surroundings. – Okura

Why does my dog want to lick everything?

Anytime a dog exhibits an odd behavior, it’s important to discuss it with your veterinarian to be sure there is no medical cause. Once that’s been eliminated, excessive licking could be a sign of boredom, the desire for more attention, or just something fun your dog enjoys. Offering Fido a variety of chew toys, engaging him in play, increasing his exercise, or teaching him a couple of new tricks are all effective ways to channel his energy in a more positive way.

In some cases, excessive licking is a compulsive behavior. Can you interrupt your dog when he is licking? If not, it might be related to anxiety, fear, or other profound behavioral issues. If this is the case, sharing your dog’s detailed history with a qualified behavior specialist or veterinary behaviorist is warranted. With some changes to your dog’s environment/lifestyle, or possibly the introduction of medication, you can positively impact a dog suffering from an anxiety disorder. – Okura

Why does my dog sniff other dogs’ behinds?

Dogs carry their ID cards under their tails. Therefore, to really know the dog in front of you, you need to get behind him! Dogs gather information such as gender, age, sexual status, emotional state, diet, etc. from the anal area of another dog. Canine noses are tens of thousands of times more sensitive to scent than a human’s nose. They also have a special organ at the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ. This special organ has nerves that are directly wired to a dog’s brain to help him “sort” and categorize myriad odors, which in turn helps him navigate his world. – Okura

Why does my dog lift his leg to pee?

The short answer is that they’re marking the territory. The higher up the spray, the harder it will be for another dog to come along and “overwrite” the information. Think of a fire hydrant (or lamp post or car tire) as a bulletin board for all the local dogs— a fragrant mélange announcing who has more testosterone, who is in heat, and who is new to the neighborhood.

And a fun fact: It’s not just male dogs who lift their legs to pee. I once had a female Beagle on one of my dog walking routes who would use her hind leg to ratchet herself halfway to a headstand so that she could pee three feet above the ground. Similarly, it’s not just female dogs who squat to pee. Many male dogs never get in the habit of lifting their leg, and the jury is still out on whether or not this is a learned behavior or an instinctive one, or more common in unaltered versus neutered dogs. So if your male dog never hoists a leg, don’t worry about it. But, if he has been raising his leg and all of a sudden starts squatting, it may be a sign of a urinary tract infection and you should take him to the vet. – Migdal

Why does my dog roll in the grass?

Ahh… Is there anything that looks more luxurious than a dog having a good roll in the grass (and don’t you wish you could join them, sometimes)? There are a few reasons they do this:

1. They’re trying to get rid of that scented shampoo you inflicted on them. What smells good to you may not smell good to your dog (unless it’s bacon). There’s nothing like a good roll through some goose poop to neutralize that organic, mango-jasmine- vanilla concoction you use, unknowingly overwhelming your dog’s olfactory center. If your dog always rolls in the grass right after a bath, you may want to switch to an unscented shampoo.

2. They’re itchy. There’s a difference between rolling for the joy of it and rolling to alleviate a persistent itch caused by allergies, dry skin, or a flea/tick infestation. If the rolling is a regular occurrence (in the grass, at home on the rugs, on the bed), take your pup to the vet to make sure there’s not an underlying cause.

3. They’re obsessing. Occasional rolling is normal; constant obsessive rolling is not. If you see this happening, replace the behavior with some fun distractions and recall commands. If the behavior continues without any underlying physical cause, talk to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist.

Rolling in the grass, in and of itself, is generally not terrible—but what’s on the grass can be. Fleas, ticks, parasites, bacteria, and dangerous pesticides can all be lurking, and you don’t want your dog, or anyone in your family, to get infected or ingest any of these things. Keep an eye on the behavior and take your dog to the vet if you feel it gets to an abnormal level. – Migdal

Why does my dog howl?

Dogs howl for all sorts of reasons. It’s one of the many ways they communicate. Some dogs howl all the time because that’s just how they roll (I’m looking at you, Huskies), and some only join in on special occasions. Let’s take a quick look at some of the reasons for howling:

1. Injury. If your dog starts howling or yelping out of the blue, or more than usual, it could be an injury or illness. Check him over carefully and take him to a vet ASAP if it continues.

2. In response to other sounds. Quite a few dogs howl in response to sirens, high-pitched noises, or other dogs howling. This usually stops when the other noise does.

3. Attention. Some dogs are naturally more vocal than others, and for them howling is just part of their everyday vocabulary. Other dogs howl specifically to get your attention, which may be cute the first few times but not so much when you’re on the phone or trying to take care of the kids. Attention-seeking howling can quickly get out of hand, so you’ll want to work on behavior modification before it becomes a real problem. Note: dogs who are left outside or kept away from the family are much more prone to howling because they’re lonely. Bring ‘em inside and let them hang out with the humans!

4. Separation anxiety. If your dog only howls when you leave him alone, and displays other behaviors such as pacing, destruction, elimination, or depression, he probably has separation anxiety. Contact a trainer or a veterinary behaviorist if the anxiety is severe, as this behavior can be difficult to modify without professional help. – Migdal

Why does my dog kick up grass?

I have to admit, I always laugh when I see a little dog kicking a half ton of dirt and grass over his business when he’s done. There’s something about those vigorous little legs sending up a spray of dust and gravel that just tickles me, and they always seem so proud of it when they’re done.

What is a dog trying to accomplish with all that fancy footwork? There are two main reasons for it: First, he’s trying to cover up his poop and pee as a way of “tidying up” (like cats will do in a litter box), and second, he’s marking the ground with the scent glands in his paws. A couple of good kicks help to release the pheromones wherever he’s made his deposit. It’s just another way of leaving his mark on the territory.

Helpful hint: if you have a kicker, I would strongly advise standing to the side when going in with the poop bag for clean up. Otherwise you’ll be wearing that dirt and gravel under your contact lenses. (Most people only make that mistake once!) – Migdal

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