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.
Photo credit: John Talbot via Flickr