Editor Choice receives dozens of emails a day from readers around the world. We’ll be honest: some are stranger than others. But one question we get fairly frequently is about Man’s Best Friend.
“Why is my dog doing THAT?”
It turns out that we can’t always understand what our dogs are trying to tell us. Well, we decided to conduct a bunch of science experiments* and find out why it is that dogs do the things they do. Let’s take a look at the research – it’s more surprising than you think.
When She Licks Her Lips
Vets and dog trainers came up with the phrase ‘calming signals’ when referring to dogs licking their lips. Generally, it can also be a gesture of appeasement, intended to alleviate a person or other animal they consider a threat.
So, if your dog is ever licking her lips, it’s not because she’s hungry! You might want to make sure she feels safe and comfortable since she’s trying to ward off aggression. Of course, a little bit of food can work, too!
When He Chews Socks Or Slippers
Eugh, we’ve all been there! After getting home from a long day at work we can see our brand new slippers absolutely destroyed by our favorite pup. But WHY must he always ruin our clothes? Well, here’s why:
He wants to chew, and so he’ll chew! You can’t stop your dog from chewing (they enjoy the habit), and so the best thing to do is buy a toy. If you get a chew toy, you might find your socks saved for another day.
When She Licks You
It’s always nice to get licked by your dog – even if it’s a bit messy sometimes! But why do our dogs enjoy the taste of us? Well, it turns out that they don’t find us as delicious as we would like to think.
Actually, dogs lick us to assert dominance over us and other dogs. While this is the main reason, there’s also another, cuter reason – she wants your attention! She’s learned that you respond to her licks, and that’s why she does it.
When He Grunts
Usually, your pet’s grunting is an involuntary action. Have you ever noticed your dog grunting when he’s resting? He’s probably not even aware that he’s doing it. Well, we looked into it and found out why he grunts like that!
Dog grunts are caused by hard breathing that is reduced in pace. This is why it’s usually when he is relaxing. When your pup is grunting, it’s because he’s so happy and relaxed. Such a good boy!
When She Whines
It can break our hearts to hear our puppies whining. There are many reasons as to why our dogs whine at us, but the main reason is clear: they want our attention. Then, it’s up to us to work out exactly why.
Dogs whine when they feel cold, lonely, or hungry. So, next time you hear your dog whining from the other room, run over and give them a big hug and a snack! They need to see and feel your love – so give it to them!
When He Blinks
Careful – you might make yourself crazy with this one! Of course, your dog is going to blink all the time, but look out for how they do it. In his eye pattern you might spot something unfamiliar -so what does it mean?
Well, dogs use blinking as a form of communication. Specifically, they use it to negotiate with one another. Dogs blink as if to say, “I come in peace!”. When your dog blinks at you, it’s because he feels safe and comfortable around you.
When She Yawns
Of course, we know that yawning is a sign of tiredness, so don’t be surprised if you see her yawning after coming back from the park one day. However, there’s another reason she might yawn that could be a cause for concern.
Dogs also yawn when they feel stressed. So, it’s important to notice her behavior outside of the yawn itself. If she doesn’t fall asleep after a yawn she might be stressed so it’s important to get the cuddles out!
When He Has Back Hairs Up
The act in which your dog raises his back hairs up is called piloerection. When he does it, he may not be telling you anything – at least not willingly. The behavior is actually involuntary and is a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to anxiety.
But just why is he reacting this way? You might want to wonder why your dog’s back muscles are contracting. Make sure he knows he is in a safe environment and don’t be too far from him for the next few minutes.
When She Barks At The Mailman
The poor mailman: he has seen your pup every day for months or even years – so why does she bark at him every time he visits? It’s not like he’s a stranger to her. So why does she bark at him even though they’re well acquainted?
Well, it’s all because of a pattern of dominance! Of course, the mailman always leaves soon after he arrives. So, each time your dog barks at him and then he leaves, it makes her think that he’s responding to her call for dominance.
When He Climbs Onto The Couch
Is there anything more annoying but cuter than your dog napping on the couch? You’ve probably told him 100 times not to climb onto your space on the sofa – so why does he insist on climbing up there every day?
Young puppies are tempted to climb to higher surfaces in an attempt to assert dominance. When they’re small, they’re likely to climb the first thing they can: your sofa. Once older, they might just like being around your smell when you’re not home.
When She Scratches The Floor
Owners of young dogs might notice how they can sometimes scratch or knaw at carpets or floor surfaces. While this might be ok in the garden, it can cause long term damage on the kitchen floor!
It turns out that she might be doing this as a way to assert dominance. By leaving a visual sign that she was there (not to mention her sweat from the exercise), she’s marking her territory as a warning to other dogs.
When He Eats Poop
This is a weird thing to do, whether you’re a doggy or not! It turns out that the term actually has a name: coprophagia. Eating your poop is fairly common among puppies, and this is because they actually see their mothers doing it when they clean up their den.
Coprophagia is a bit more concerning among older dogs who are already aware of the problems with eating their feces. You might want to take your older dog to a vet if they are eating their waste due to stress or sickness.
When She Rolls In Stinky Stuff
Is there anything more annoying? You’ve just bathed your dog and she goes out to roll around in a patch of muddy grass! The reason they do this probably doesn’t surprise you once you think about it.
When dogs roll around grass or dirt, they’re not collecting a new smell any more than they’re trying to deliver their own smell. Rolling around is a way to mark territory and tell others where she’s been. Some believe it can also be a way to cover up a smell for predators.
When He Acts Happier With Dogs The Same Breed
It’s hard for us to imagine since there is only one species of sapiens today. But what is it like to see a dog interact with different breeds? You might notice that dogs prefer to be around dogs the same breed than other ones – but why is this?
Dogs are generally happier around similar breeds since it reminds them of their siblings when they were growing up. It’s not that they’re unhappy around different breeds, but he loves being around dogs like him.
When She Sniffs Before Urinating
We know a dog’s nose is one of the strongest scent-sniffers in the world. That’s why the police use them instead of any other kind of technology. So, when she is determined to have a sniff before urinating, you can bet there’s a reason why.
Well, usually she’s looking for somewhere that doesn’t already have a scent from another dog. When looking for a place to ‘eliminate’ with her urine, she wants to make sure she can find a place that is just hers.
When He Sniffs Other Dogs
We’ve all seen our dogs run up to others in the park and immediately sniff their butts. While we think it’s funny (albeit gross!) have we ever stopped and wondered why they love to get the smell of butts?
Well, dogs’ butts generate pheromones, which is a chemical secreted by an animal that determines behavioral development. This means that dogs can examine the personality of other dogs by smelling their behinds. Can you imagine if humans did that?
When She Pants
Have you ever seen your dog panting even though she hasn’t been running? While we usually do it to increase our oxygen levels, dogs have a different reason as to why they pant.
Dogs use panting to regulate their body temperatures. Since they can’t sweat as much as humans, they rely on different methods to get rid of internal heat. Another reason might be due to anxiety, so don’t forget to give her a hug, too! It can always make her feel better.
When He Eats Grass
Grass isn’t very healthy to eat as a snack, but there are two main reasons why your dog keeps eating it. The first is to use it as a purgative, and help him go to the toilet. It may sound gross, but it’s good for his digestion!
The second reason is, quite simply, he enjoys it! Even though it doesn’t add any vitamins or nutrients, scientists believe that there are evolutionary reasons why he enjoys eating the grass in parks.
When She Wags Her Tail – Fast Or Slow?
We know that wagging a tail is usually related to how much energy or excitement your dog might have at any given time. So, you might want to consider the speed in which she wags her tail to understand her a bit better.
Maybe you bought a new kind of toy, and her tail is wagging, but it’s lackluster. Maybe you got home after a two-day trip and it’s about to fly off! The speed of the tail is a strong indicator of her feelings and energy levels.
When He Chases His Own Tail
We’ve all seen this a hundred times – your pup will spend hours trying to grab the back of his tail. While it may look like he’s just having a little bit of fun and blowing off some energy, it might actually be a cause for more concern.
Chasing a tail stems from a high predatory drive without an ability to ‘override’ the instinct to hunt for something. In fact, this can even lead to anxious or obsessive mood swings, so you might want to visit a vet if your pup does it too often.
When She Nurses On Blankets
Dogs can bond with blankets – or other stuffed animals – in the same way that toddlers often keep sucking their thumb. Your pup might be attached to an item because they were taken from their mother too soon and still need a form of nurturing or comfort.
You might notice that she will keep sucking or playing with inanimate objects. There’s more chance of seeing this among breeds like Doberman Pinschers and Dachshunds since they’re taken from their parents earlier than most.
When He Sticks His Head Out The Window
Any dog owner who’s taken a road trip with their doggy will know this one! After scratching at the window for minutes, you open it up a bit and see how he sticks his head out of it! If done safely and carefully, you’ll see your pup smiling for hours.
But why is this? Well, it’s nothing to do with the sensation of flying. Actually, your dog is simply enjoying all the strong scent of a country road. He may get extra excited to smell more trees, grass, or animals out there. Just make sure it’s safe!
When She Barks At Other Dogs With Head Up High
Usually, dogs bark to try to assert dominance – as we’ve already discussed with the mailman. Well, when you see her barking at other dogs this might be the same thing: especially if her body language has changed.
Look out if she is barking with direct eye contact or tense body posture. Usually, her physical behavior will tell you if she’s feeling threatened or scared at all. Might be time to keep her on a leash for a while!
When He Barks At Other Dogs With Ears Pressed To Head
Here’s another form of barking that you might want to learn a little more about. When your dog is barking with his ears pressed to his head, he is admitting submission to the more dominant dog. You might also see the tail falling between the legs.
This is ok. There are always dogs who are more dominant or submissive than others. It’s important that your pup is always feeling the love that you give him!
When She Digs Quickly
Similar to chasing a tail, you might see a dog digging quickly due to the inherent predatory instinct they have. This can be particularly true among terriers, who were bred to chase animals that would hide in the ground.
This might explain why your dog will sometimes bury a gift or treasure to dig up later. According to their DNA, they are used to finding and hiding things deep in the ground from when they were not yet domesticated.
When He Takes Food Into Another Room
Have you ever noticed how your dog might take his food out the bowl and eat it in another room? You might think it’s because he doesn’t want to eat next to you, but the real reason is actually a lot more practical.
No, he’s not a secret eater! This habit occurs among more submissive dogs who don’t want their food taken from more dominant creatures. You might see your pet doing this even if there are no other dogs present at the time.
When She Hides Her Treats
You want to reward your pup – so why is she keeping hold of the treat? Well, this is actually an impressive form of delayed pleasure that comes from their days as wild dogs. Here’s why:
When they would hunt, dogs often never knew where their next meal would come from. So, they hid some of their food in the ground to save it for later. That way, they always knew they had some leftover. Smart!
When He Runs In His Sleep
This is very cute, indeed. When your dog is having his afternoon nap, you might notice how his legs are wagging, as if he’s running on the spot. What is this and why is he doing it? Well, the answer is probably more boring than you thought.
He’s dreaming, of course! He’s probably got a huge smile on his face as he dreams of chasing a cat into a tree. There are many videos on Youtube showing these dogs dreaming like this – how many have you seen?
When She Hangs Her Tail Between Her Legs
So, we know what it means when she’s wagging her tail quickly. That’s only good news, right? So, it makes sense that when she hangs it low, it’s something different. Well, there are two main reasons that a dog was lower its tail like this.
The first is a sign of a confident or dominant dog that can feel like she can ‘let her guard down’ around others. However, it might also be a sign that she is anxious, so be sure to learn the difference between the two!
When He Points His Tail Out
While the hanging tail can mean she is scared, a tall tail says the opposite – I’m ready to fight! Consider your dog’s mood when you see his tail pointed like this: it could mean he’s feeling aggressive or violent.
It could be an attempt to show dominance among other dogs and extend in a way that’s meant to show power and control. Make sure he doesn’t lose his cool and end up fighting a dog in the park. No one wants that!
When She Walks In Circles Before Going To Sleep
Dogs haven’t always been blessed with nice and comfortable doggy beds to sleep in all night. Once upon a time, wild dogs had to make their own bed each night. Well, this is why we can see them circle around a bed each night.
The action dates back to when dogs would make their own bed by walking around a piece of grass or mud to create a cushion. Even after all these years, it’s still in their DNA to circle before sleeping. Cute!
When He Sniffs Our Groin
It’s one of the funnier actions a dog does – even if it’s quite awkward sometimes. So the question still remains: what on earth can a dog gain from smelling our special area? Well, actually he can gain quite a lot.
Our groins release specific pheromones that dogs can smell to see if we are confident or fearful. By giving us a smell first, they can work out what kind of person we are and whether or not they feel safe around us.
When She Shakes Toys With Her Mouth
Picture this: it’s all fun and games with your pup and her favorite toy. But, before you know it, she has started grabbing the toy and shaking it violently from left to right. Why does she do this? Well, it turns out it’s also in her DNA.
Taking something she wants and shaking it in her mouth is similar to what her ancestors did when they were wolves. The action is to make sure her prey is dead and safe to eat. It turns out that your domesticated pet still has the urge to kill her prey – so watch out!
When He Moves Away During A Pet
It can be strange to see your pup move his head away while you’re petting him. After all, he’s wanted attention from you all day and now he’s moving away? What gives?
Well, it turns out you might be doing it wrong! Usually, dogs don’t like to be pet on their head, so stay away from up there. When he wants a pet, make sure to stroke their chin or the side of their face. His decision to move away from you might also be a sign of dominance.
When She Play Bows
Have you ever seen your doggy bend down and make it look as though she is bowing down to you? There are a few reasons why she does this and what it means to her between owners or other dogs in the playground.
It turns out that she does this when she feels playful and happy. When bowing down like this, now is the perfect time to pick up a ball and throw it! She’ll love to run around and use some energy she has.
When He Howls At Night
We’ve discussed why a dog would bark (and the differences between them), but what about howling? All we know is that his loud and long howls at night can keep us awake. The answer might not surprise you as much as you’d think.
Wild dogs used to communicate with each other across packs and communities, and it’s a trait that has stayed in domesticated animals today. So, when your Lab howls at night, all he’s doing is channeling his ancestors.
When She Stares At You
This act alone is responsible for the famous ‘puppy eyes’ we’ve all had to battle with! When dogs stare at you, it’s usually their way of seeking attention or concentrating on earning themselves a treat.
Funnily enough, young children also practice this when they want something, too! There must be something in our evolution to react paternally to young eyes when they want something. Still, there’s nothing better!
When He Humps You (Or Other Dogs)
This is an awkward encounter that is definitely familiar to those with adolescent dogs. You can be having a nice walk in the park or relaxing at home and suddenly your dog mounts you! Does he find you attractive? Well, no. Here’s why he humps you.
Even if they’re neutered or spayed, they will still do it. It‘s nothing to do with sexual urges, or even asserting dominance. Sometimes, it’s just his way of seeking attention from you. So, no need to be embarrassed next time he does it!
When She Tilts Her Head
Have you ever said something to your dog and she tilts her head to the side? It looks as though she’s communicating with you as if to say, ‘huh?’. It’s a funny action that mimics humans and their confusion – but why do they do it?
It turns out that scientists actually aren’t sure why dogs do this. Some think it’s because they don’t hear humans and they’re trying to adjust their ears. Whether it’s following a command or hearing new sounds, she might want to be listening to as much as possible.
When She Follows You
If your dog is always following you, you’re likely to find it charming or a little bit of a nuisance. Either way, it’s important to understand why she is following you around without giving you a chance to yourself!
There are a few reasons why she might be doing this. Some breeds just like to have the companionship of their owners. Others might be suffering from separation anxiety and don’t like the idea of being left alone. Hopefully, she just wants some harmless attention, so be prepared to give her belly a good scratch!