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Is My Dog Normal? 6 Common Canine Behaviors Explained

Is My Dog Normal? 6 Common Canine Behaviors Explained

Dogs may be manís best friend, but sometimes their behaviors can seem a little puzzling to their human companions. While recent studies have shown that people are fairly good at decoding dogsí facial expressoins, we still have a lot to learn about the inner workings of canine psychology.

If youíve ever wondered why your dog acts the way it does, here are a few explanations that may shed some light on the situation:

Does your dog love to roll in garbage or manure? The bad news is scientists arenít completely sure why so many dogs love smelling terrible, but there are a few theories — all involving dogsí highly developed sense of smell. One theory is that dogs are trying to use the smell to tell other members of their pack about potential nearby food sources. Another is that dogs are trying to cover up the offensive smell with their own scent. But the explanation that makes the most sense from an evolutionary perspective is that dogs are trying to disguise their scent to hide from predators.

Weíve all met dogs who canít seem to stop licking random objects around the home. This seems harmless enough (if a little strange), but it can be a problem if it causes the dog to lick potentially dangerous object or ingest materials that could create an intestinal blockage. For puppies, this behavior is fairly normal — much like human children, they explore the world through their sense of taste. But excessive licking can be a symptom of a medical problem (particularly in adult dogs), so itís best to get it checked out by your vet. A dog may lick to relieve symptoms of nausea or dental disease, but itís also possible for dogs to develop anxiety or OCD.

Many dogs seem to have trouble being left on their own, following people around the house and even experiencing separation anxiety when they canít be near people. This can be a minor annoyance in the case of a dog thatís frequently underfoot, but it can also be a serious problem if your dog acts out when youíre not at home. Dogs are social creature that travel in packs, so this behavior may be as simple as your dog not understanding that human beings like to have alone time. But if your dog becomes destructive or panicked at the idea of being alone, thereís a deeper issue at work. Luckily, for most dogs, this anxiety is possible to overcome by simply allowing your dog to get used to being left alone for short periods of time. Some dogs with severe anxiety improve with special training or medication, so consult with your vet if nothing youíve tried seems to be helping.

Thereís no denying that dogs can be a little bit gross — have you ever caught your dog eating poop on your daily walk? While itís easy to understand why this behavior is upsetting to human parents, itís (unfortunately) normal behavior for a dog. Itís been speculated that dogs maintain scavenging instincts from an earlier stage in their evolutionary history, causing them to eat anything that could be (or once was) food in an attempt to obtain vital nutrients. Some animal behaviorists also think that a dog raiding the litter box might be expressing boredom or anxiety. Either way, itís important to keep your dog from this behavior if at all possible — not only is it gross, it puts your dog at risk of contracting parasites.

On a lighter note, you may have noticed your dog always walks in circles before lying down to sleep. There are actually a few reasons for this. In their distant past, dogs would walk in circles to make a comfortable bed by stomping down tall grass and vegetation. The motion would drive off snakes or bugs hiding out in the dogís sleeping spot, and served a social function for dogs traveling in packs to signal that a spot had been ďtaken.Ē

Finally, there are a number of dog behavior ďexpertsĒ out there who will tell you that any misbehavior is your dogís attempt to assert dominance over you. But scientists have started to question whether thatís really the case. It turns out that ďaggressiveĒ dogs are usually reacting to individual relationships with the humans in their lives, not trying to move up in the social pecking order. In fact, training that focuses on showing the dog whoís boss can actually be counterproductive in the long run – making the dog fearful and defensive. If your dog is behaving poorly, try to uncover any possible reasons the dog may be frightened or uncomfortable instead of just trying to assert your Alpha status.


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Photo credit: John Talbot via Flickr

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2:45PM PDT on May 24, 2013

loved this article. thank you for sharing

3:22AM PDT on May 3, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

8:24PM PDT on Apr 20, 2013

what a stupid question, of course your dog is normal but i doubt you are who are question your dogs sanity, i see many dogowners being so cruel to their poor dogs. stop being abusive idiots and be kind and gentle to your dogs

6:25AM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

I have a Terrier mix and he doesn't roll in stinky stuff, doesn't eat any kind of poop, doesn't turn circles before lying down to sleep, doesn't try to be alpha one dog, doesn't lick random objects or sniff people's private parts (not mentioned in the article but not a very nice habit, either) and has no trouble or anxiety issues with being on his own. Is MY dog normal? I hope so because he's such a joy to have around. Bonus points for coming to me and very quietly, like a whisper, "woofs" to let me know something's up rather than loudly barking. That way, he's letting me know of potential danger without letting the potential danger know HE and I know! He also sits outside or inside the back door and quietly "woofs" while staring at me to let me know when he needs to go out or come in. He's as smart as they come.

5:02AM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

I kind of disagree with three of the things they are saying. First, I had Beagles who would simply love rolling in sheep dung. No other dogs were around, it seemed they just loved the smell. Number two is that I was told by veterinarians that when a dog eats "poop" it is a nutritional problem, it is possible I guess. Number three, some dogs are naturally aggressive and have a pecking order that needs to be addressed We owned a Blue Healer, a wonderful dog, but it took a year of everyday letting him know I was above his pecking order, he was very aggressive, I never hurt him, but had to contain him from biting, finally got it through his head and all was great. Dogs who are of a breed that are bred for certain characteristics like herding or hunting are more of a challenge.You do not want the dog to be fearful of you, a scared dog is usually one that bites, I do agree with that however, but the statement in this article is a little lacking on the problem of aggression, or pecking order. Most people do not handle an aggressive dog correctly, being aggressive back to an aggressive dog can be disastrous for yourself or others.

6:28AM PDT on Mar 27, 2013


2:37PM PDT on Mar 25, 2013

Chihuahua: Maybe they'll think I'm big and scary if I smell like a dead slug! Human: You're disgusting! Chihuahua: The best place to keep bones is under the human's pillow -- she doesn't chew them and no one else goes there. Human: I am not sleeping in a butcher shop! Chihuahua: Hey, look, there's week-old x%*x$@ on the side of that dumpster, aged to taste! Human picks up the Chihuahua and carries it there! Gotta luv 'em!

1:28PM PDT on Mar 25, 2013


9:55AM PDT on Mar 25, 2013

I agree about the Alpha dog and pecking order theories. By observing my own little pack I can easily see that it's not so straightforward as that. One dog is the boss when it comes to food, another is clearly the boss when it comes to getting attention from me. Different behaviours have different pecking orders, and they generally seem happy with the system. Cats, of course, do whatever they like whenever they like and the dogs know it.

9:45AM PDT on Mar 25, 2013

Relieved to see that our dog's eating habits, while incredibly gross to me, are not abnormal. But he won't be doing it again if I can help it!

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