Dogs are pretty interesting creatures, but they’ve got some weird habits. Here’s what science says about a few of the strangest.
Dogs have some strange behaviors, and some of them don’t seem to make any sense.
We’ve all noticed our canine friends chasing their tails, barking at the mailman, or hiding when a thunderstorm rolls in. If you’ve ever wondered what drives these behaviors, we’ve got the answers (or at least the latest research).
As you might have guessed, howling is an evolutionary trait. Wolves howl to tell other members of their packs where they are. They’ll also sometimes howl when they’ve found food, or to ward off other packs. Basically, it’s a canine’s way of saying, “I’m here, so consider yourself warned.”
But domesticated dogs don’t really need to howl. While we’re not entirely sure why the behavior has stuck around, scientists do believe that dogs feel satisfaction or pleasure from howling. If you tell at them to get them to stop, they might think that you’re joining in.
Dogs start chasing their tails for the exact reason that you think they do: They’re confused. Your pup might not realize that his tail is a part of his body.
This behavior is most common in puppies, but if you reward your dog when he does this (for instance, by laughing or praising him), you might reinforce the behavior, and it could continue as he ages. The dog may start chasing its tail when it’s bored in an effort to draw your attention.
Older dogs sometimes start chasing their tails because of parasites or skin issues, so if a dog suddenly develops this behavior, you may want to schedule a visit to the vet.
3. Barking at Reflections
Dogs aren’t capable of recognizing themselves in the mirror. Puppies will often mistake their mirror images for other puppies. As dogs age, however, they learn to ignore their reflections—but they never actually realize that it’s a reflection.
That might not sound intuitive to a human, but keep in mind that very few animals can actually recognize their reflections as themselves. Human babies don’t even have this ability; self-awareness takes quite a bit of time to develop.
4. Walking in Circles Before Lying Down
This behavior is another holdover from ancient canines. Wild dogs would typically lay down in grass, since fertile ground provides some natural cushioning.
By spinning around a few times, dogs could flatten the grass fairly quickly. Some dogs will also try to “dig” at cushions or pillows, owing to the same instinct—their ancestors would dig to expose some soil, creating a comfy place for a nap.
There are two main reasons that your dog sits on your feet. The first is that he’s cold, and your feet provide an obvious source of heat (even if it’s a little uncomfortable).
But dog behaviorists also believe that our canines want to feel closer to their human friends. Sitting on your feet provides your dog with assurance that you’re there—he feels safe and protected.
Yes, it’s adorable; your dog is awesome.
If a strange dog runs up and starts licking your face, full-slobber, you’re more likely to think it’s gross than cute. But when your own dog does the same thing, you’re thrilled to get a “kiss.”
Dog “kisses” are heavy on the tongue for a few good reasons. Researchers suggest that dogs use taste to understand the world around them. Where we might just reach out to feel a surface to get a better idea of what it is, dogs have to take a big old lick.
There’s also the affection angle. Mother dogs lick their puppies clean. Puppies lick their mothers in appreciation. Littermates lick each other for similar reasons. So when you puppy leans in and plants a wet one on your cheek, that’s just her way of showing you a little love.
7. Is That Pee on the Floor, or Are You Just Happy to See Us?
Dogs are passionate creatures. They get excited when they see someone they like. Sometimes, they get so excited that they lose control of their bladders. What’s with that?
Typically, older and calmer dogs won’t pee with excitement when a friend comes to visit. That behavior is more associated with puppies, who haven’t really learned about a thing called “bladder control.” However, some older dogs maintain this habit well into adulthood, in which case it could be a sign of anxiety.
Either way, if a dog leaves a puddle by way of saying hello, it’s a good idea to take him out for a walk. Nine times out of 10, there’s more where that came from.
In an act of almost criminal cuteness, many dogs have a habit of cocking their heads to the side when they hear certain sounds. It’s the clear canine equivalent of an incredulous, “Huh?”
In fact, that’s probably exactly what it is. Dog behaviorists theorize that this adorable gesture is an attempt to hear a sound better, in order to understand it. Often, your pup will tilt her head in response to an unfamiliar sound, particularly high-pitched tones. She’s just trying to figure out what the heck that sound means.
Does your fuzzy-faced best friend sometimes sit and stare directly at you with a heartbreakingly earnest expression on his face? If so, you’re a lucky pet owner. Most times, dogs stare at their human companions in hopes of a little attention or, even better, a treat.
That expression of longing is exactly what it looks like. Be careful if a dog you don’t know gives you the stare-bear treatment, though. Eye contact can be a sign of aggression for some dogs. Before you go in with a nice pat, make sure you don’t see any other behaviors that might suggest the dog in question is in less than a great mood.
As funny as it may look, if your dog sits down on the carpet and skootches herself along, it might be time for a trip to the groomer—or even the vet. This butt-scratching behavior suggests that your dog has an itchy backside.
That may be a sign of a health problem. More likely, it’s just an un-ruptured anal gland, which, yes, is a thing that all dogs have. Not to get too gross, but your dog has a pair of glands that give her poop a little special something. We’re tempted to call it a “flavor,” but that is sick. It’s more of an odor, which is still sick.
Sometimes these glands get clogged and fill up with that special ingredient. That’s when some dogs will take to scooting along the floor liked little furry hoverboards. That means it’s time for a trip to the groomer, who might be able to express those glands, or to the veterinarian, who can tell you if there’s a bigger problem at play. Either way, don’t just take video for your social media feed. That animal is suffering!
Lots of dogs do something funny when you rub their bellies, heads, or any other trigger spot. They start scratching the air with a free leg. What’s the point, you might wonder, when you’re handling the scratching for them?
The answer is that they can’t help it. The doggy nervous system comes pre-loaded with something that veterinarians call, aptly, the “scratch reflex.” When they feel certain stimuli on their skin, their legs hop and scratch uncontrollably.
Evolution designed the response to shake off tics or other parasites, but it’s still at play, even when your puppy is enjoying your scratches very much.
Wouldn’t it be easier if they could just talk to us?