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Dogs are so closely tied to humans that at times they even resemble us in their behaviours. When a dog acts like a child, reaching to be picked up or demanding that we watch them play with their toys, we hardly bat an eye at their behaviour. Some dog tendencies, on the other hand, are so uniquely dog-like that they can't help but remind us that we're dealing with a separate species. Why do dogs tilt their heads when we speak to them? Why do they chase their tails? Here are the answers or at least some educated guesses on these and other quirky dog behaviours.
Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?
While head tilting has never been studied scientifically, according to Mental Floss, dog behaviourists have a number of theories as to why your dog sometimes cocks his head to the side when you speak to him.
- He's trying to understand you. Dogs actually understand the meanings behind a number of words and voice inflections. It's possible that when your dog appears to be listening attentively by cocking his head, that's exactly what he's doing. He's listening for words, phrases and voice inflections that have positive meanings and associations.
- He's trying to zone in on your voice. While dogs have excellent hearing, their ability to pinpoint the source and location of a sound is actually worse than that of a human. It could be that tilting the head helps a dog identify where the sound of your voice is coming from.
- He's trying to see you better. A theory put forth in Psychology Today points out that a dog's muzzle partially blocks his view of your face. Tilting his head helps him see around his muzzle so he can read your entire facial expression and pick up on cues that tell him whether you're happy with him.
- He knows it's cute ... sort of. While your dog probably doesn't actually understand the concept of cuteness, he does understand that you respond positively when he engages in this adorable behaviour, which reinforces it. So he keeps doing it deliberately to get a positive reaction.
Why Do Dogs Kick with Their Back Feet after Relieving Themselves?
Dogs are territorial by nature. Whenever they relieve themselves, this serves as a territorial marker, according to the American Kennel Club. However, because many animals mark their territory in this fashion, dogs attach an additional message letting other animals know that the deposit was left behind specifically by them. Vetstreet adds that dogs have glands in their paws that secrete pheromones when they scratch their back paws in the earth. Essentially, this is your dog's way of adding his signature to his territorial marker.
Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down?
This behaviour is most likely a holdover from before dogs became domesticated, says Vetstreet. Your dog's wild ancestors would most likely circle the ground in order to soften the dirt or tamp down grass or leaves and make a little nest in which to lie. Scratching prior to lying down is also tied to this ancestral practice. Dogs in the wild would dig a hollow in the ground to sleep in, which would serve to regulate body temperature and provide some protection from the elements. These behaviours have apparently become so deeply ingrained in the species that even the cushiest indoor bed won't prevent your dog from doing them from time to time.
Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?
As with head tilting, tail chasing has a number of possible causes, says Canine Journal. Some dogs appear to chase their tails simply because it's fun or to alleviate boredom. Some dogs also do it to express excitement or a desire to play. And dogs with high prey drives are likely to chase after anything that moves in their field of vision, including their own tails.
However, tail chasing isn't always fun and games for your dog. It could also be a sign of something more serious, such as a medical condition or an anxiety disorder. If your dog is a frequent tail chaser, you should talk to your veterinarian about the following possibilities:
- He has a medical or skin condition. Problems with the anal glands might be causing your dog to turn in circles trying to reach his posterior and provide some relief, which looks a lot like tail chasing. Similarly, flea allergy dermatitis might be causing his rump to itch like crazy, and he's simply trying to reach the itch.
- He has high cholesterol. This might sound like a strange reason for tail chasing, but according to Vetstreet, a study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice found that tail chasing occurs more frequently in dogs with high cholesterol. One theory is that the extra cholesterol blocks the flow of hormones that control mood and behaviour, causing dogs with this condition to be anxious or excitable.
- He has obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is an anxiety disorder that is fairly common to dogs, and frequent tail chasing is a common symptom of this disorder. One way to tell if this behaviour might be related to OCD is to see if your dog can be easily distracted from it. If not, or if he also displays other obsessive behaviours, you should discuss the possibility of OCD with your vet.
Of course, if your dog doesn't chase his tail very often, or if he only does it when he's clearly excited or it's time to play, then it's most likely nothing to worry about. Still, it might be worth mentioning it to your vet during his next checkup, just to be on the safe side.
Why Dogs Scoot Across the Carpet?
If you are a dog parent, you have undoubtedly seen your dog scoot his bottom across the carpet or grass from time to time. While you might think it is funny, it is actually a sign of an issue for your pup. When he scoots, he is trying to soothe an uncomfortable or irritated bottom. The irritation can be caused by a number of things from inflamed anal sacs to tape worms to allergies. If the problem persists more than just once or twice it is best to take your dog to the veterinarian to have him checked out. Your vet can help you diagnose the issue as well as provide you with treatment plans to prevent it in the future.
Why Do Dogs Sniff Each Other's Butts?
We know, we know, we have the 411 on dog butts apparently, but admittedly you're probably curious. Dogs sniffing each other's rumps is nothing new to dog parents. In fact, it is probably one of the first things you notice when you introduce your new pup to another dog because it seems so abnormal and contrary to human behavior. But for dogs it's actually quite normal.
Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, 10,000-100,000 times better than humans, and they use that sense of smell to investigate other dogs through their derrière. While it seems disgusting to us, it actually is a wave of discovery for dogs. Dogs have anal sacs that produce pheromones and scent molecules that tell your pup a lot about their new friend including age, gender, diet, reproductive status, and more. While it is their way of saying hello, they're getting in a full conversation with a few whiffs. This is why you'll notice that dogs that meet often and know each other quite well don't succumb to butt-sniffing very often. So, while you might think it is disgusting and you're trying to prevent your pup from partaking in a butt-to-nose greeting, just remember it's their instinctive way of getting to know each other better.
Dog tendencies can seem quirky and, at times, downright strange from a human perspective. But when you think like a dog, they start to make a lot more sense. If you're someone who's ever asked, "Why do dogs tilt their heads?" or another question relating to your dog's behavior, having a better understanding of dog psychology may help you feel closer to your furry friend.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, freelance pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.