More than 10,000 years ago, your dog’s wild ancestors began their path toward domestication. Many dog behaviors are deeply rooted in their DNA, but some can be suggestive of stress and illness. The Ambleside Animal Hospital team explains 10 behaviors your canine companion may exhibit.
#1: Why do dogs eat poop?
Dogs evolved as scavengers, and can be non-discerning about what they eat. Normal behavior for mother dogs includes stimulating their puppies to defecate by licking their rear, then eating their excrement. Research has shown that certain breeds, such as shelties and border collies, are more likely to eat their waste, whereas poodles are fastidious about their eating habits. The key to preventing your pup from eating poop is to keep them on a leash when they defecate, and immediately pick up their stool.
#2: Why do dogs eat grass?
Many people believe dogs eat grass because of an upset stomach, but 75% of grass-eating dogs do not vomit and are otherwise healthy. Dogs can eat grass out of boredom, or a desire for more roughage. Grass is commonly found in wolf stool because they eat herbivore prey, including stomach contents. If your dog is eating grass and vomiting, you should take them in for a veterinary evaluation.
#3: Why do dogs eat rocks, plastic, or other non-food items?
The term for eating non-food items is “pica.” Boredom, lack of adequate exercise, or the need for more social interaction can cause a dog to engage in abnormal eating behaviors. In addition, some animals with pica have gastrointestinal disorders, or eat soil because they have mineral deficiencies. Dogs with pica are at a higher risk for vomiting, diarrhea, or a gastrointestinal obstruction that could require surgery. A veterinary evaluation can help rule out whether your dog’s pica is caused by a medical problem, and provide suggestions on stress reduction techniques.
#4: Why do dogs hide things?
Wolves hoard food to keep it safe and survive harsh environments. A well-fed dog can instinctively hide their treats, chews, or toys. Dogs with stress or anxiety, especially in multiple dog households, may also feel compelled to hide their possessions. To discourage hiding, limit the number of toys, consider teaching your dog a new game, and use puzzle toys for brain stimulation.
#5: Why do dogs steal socks and laundry?
Bowerbirds are the kleptomaniacs of the bird kingdom, and create elaborate structures to attract females. Although dogs are not trying to attract a mate, they can steal clothing because it contains your scent, and because of a desire for attention. If you have a laundry or sock stealer, give them interesting toys, increase your interaction with them, and ensure your clothing is secure to avoid accidental ingestion and a gastrointestinal obstruction.
#6: Why do dogs smell each other’s rears?
Dogs have anal glands inside their rectums that secrete a strong-smelling substance when they defecate. Anal gland secretions are a dog’s calling card, and provide an efficient introduction method for other dogs. Skunks use their anal glands to spray noxious material as a defense—luckily, dogs have not developed that skill.
#7: Why do dogs scoot on their rear?
Sometimes anal glands can become overly full, and a dog will scoot to release the substance, leaving a smelly smear on your floor. Scooting can also be caused by allergies or parasites. If your dog is scooting, or you notice swelling or redness beneath your dog’s tail, bring them in for a veterinary evaluation.
#8: Why do dogs yawn?
Both people and dogs yawn when tired, but dogs also yawn in stressful situations. Wolves yawn to show indifference when faced with an aggressor, or to show they are not concerned about a submissive animal. Anxious animals can be calmed by another dog’s yawn. If you have noticed your dog yawning along with you, it is because they are demonstrating the human-animal bond.
#9: Why do dogs lick faces?
Face licking is normal dog social behavior. Wolf puppies lick adult dogs in the face to prompt regurgitation of partially digested food. Face licking can also be an appeasement gesture signaling deference, as well as a sign of affection. Do not let your dog lick your mouth or an open wound, to avoid transmission of parasites and prevent infection. To discourage face licking, turn away from your dog instead of interacting, and redirect them with a toy or other activity.
#10: Why do dogs bark at the mail carrier?
The obvious answer is that dogs bark to protect their territory, but they also make an interesting connection when the mail or package is delivered. The prompt disappearance of the delivery person when they bark reinforces their success at deterring a potential intruder. To reduce unwanted barking behavior, try a diversion such as a sit command, and reward your dog for staying quiet. You can also recruit a friend to play the role of delivery person, and slowly desensitize your dog to comings and goings at the front door.
If you have questions about your dog’s behaviors, or are concerned they may be anxious or have a medical problem, don’t hesitate to contact the Ambleside Animal Hospital team. We are here to help, and will be happy to check them out.