There is some pretty odd dog behavior. To us, they can be considered harmful, annoying, and possibly dangerous. As dog lovers, it’s important to try to understand the meaning behind these behaviors. At times it’s also crucial to modify or prevent these behaviors.
Our team at fitdogster.com spent over 40 hours researching dog behavior – the internet, social media, speaking to trainers, behaviorists, and vets. We created a list of 13 of the most common dog behaviors and the meaning behind them.
It’s all relative and circumstantial to your dog (or situation) so you have to pay attention to possible triggers and if the behavior is new. Also, before you draw any conclusions it’s important to make sure your dog is healthy (regular vet visits) and is well exercised. If dogs aren’t well exercised they often act out from boredom.
We then provide suggestions (when appropriate) on how to modify or possibly stop these behaviors. We also arm you with training tips and pointers to handle many undesirable dog behaviors. The trick is to create behavior changes early on and be disciplined. Unfortunately, some will require more involved training or behavioral help. So let’s delve into this interesting guide!
Aggression is the most serious behavior problem in dogs. It is also the main reason why pet parents seek professional advice from behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians.
“Aggression serves a purpose for dogs,” says Katherine Miller, Ph.D., director of anti-cruelty behavior research for the ASPCA. “Dogs respond to real or perceived threats to their body, territory, or resources such as food or toys.” However, if every passing thing sends your dog into an aggressive fit, some behavior therapy is likely appropriate.
Reasons for aggression are varied. It’s important to understand what’s behind the behavior. Below is a summary of many of the primary reasons for aggression.
Tips & Pointers
If your dog is still a puppy, experts agree that socializing a dog to expose them to different people, other dogs, and places can help significantly in reducing aggression.
If your dog is a mature adult dog and the aggression is a new behavior be sure to consult your vet. The aggression may be due to a medical issue. Also, geriatric dogs can become confused and insecure, prompting aggressive behavior.
If medical conditions don’t seem to be behind the aggression for an adult dog it’s best to work with a qualified trainer or behaviorist for this condition. Please see the following ASPCA article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to learn how to find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area.
Barking is one of the various means of communication for dogs. Because barking serves a variety of functions. It’s important to determine the cause and your dog’s motivation for barking to be sure you have a barking problem. In many cases, it might be a realistic goal to decrease barking versus eliminating it. Some dog breeds are also more apt to bark more and they can also be harder to train to decrease their barking.
Barking often alerts dog owners to the approach of other people to their homes. Barking can also tell them there’s something that the dog wants or needs. However, sometimes a dog’s barking can be excessive. Below are some very common reasons for a dog’s barking.
Tips & Pointers
If dogs successfully bark for attention, they often go on to bark for other things – food, play, and walks. Given this, train your dog to be quiet on cue so that you can stop attention-related barking. Teach your dog an alternative behavior – like “sit” or “down”. You’ll be happier and your dog will be more likely to get what they want too!
Also, below are a few tips to help control your dog’s barking. Even more advanced techniques can be discussed with a professional trainer if needed.
- Shouting actually stimulates your dog to bark more. They think you’re joining in! So speak calmly and firmly, but be careful not to yell.
- Dogs usually don’t know what you want when you’re yelling “shut up.” Train your dog to understand the word “Quiet!”
- Make sure to use body language as well like a finger over your lips. Dogs often pick up on body language quicker than voice commands.
- Don’t confuse your dog by encouraging them to bark in some situations and not others.
- Remember to praise or reward them for good behavior!
Some important things to note. Anti-Bark Collars either often don’t work, work for a while or can have unintended side effects. For instance, shock collars can make a dog more aggressive toward what causes the shock to go off. Citronella collars can run out of citronella and dogs often “smarten up” to this. They continue barking at will after it has run out. Multi-dog households can cause problems as well. If one dog barks and the other is punished – shocked or sprayed.
Debarking surgery is controversial and is viewed as inhumane. The same goes for muzzles worn by dogs. Unsupervised for long periods of time dogs can’t pant, eat, drink, etc.
For these reasons, training is the preferred approach for reducing barking.
Roughly 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the US annually and 20% will need medical attention as a result. Children are the most common victims with 50% of dog bite wound victims being under the age of thirteen. There are usually common triggers and warnings leading up to a dog bite, which is understandably why younger children are more likely victims.
There are five primary reasons that dogs bite as outlined below. This excludes puppy biting that is done more or less in a playful manner.
Tips & Pointers
Dog bite prevention has to begin with each individual owner. Having your dog spayed or neutered will help to decrease the risk of bite behaviors. Lots of exercise and play will fortify the human-animal bond and help reduce pent-up energy. Also, train your dog with basic commands and avoid aggressive games.
Try to also socialize your dog with many different situations, people, and other dogs. But by all means, don’t let them roam free. Keep all vaccinations current since in most states a dog can be put down if they bite someone and vaccines are out of date.
Be sure to educate children on how to act around dogs and how to handle a dog attack. Knowing the common triggers will help avoid dog bites. There are always behaviors that lead up to the dog bite – ears pinned back, the fur along the back standing up, growling, showing their teeth, eyes wide open showing the whites of their eyes, stiffening of the body, and looking at you from the side of their eyes. Look out for these signals!
If your dog shows signs of aggressive behavior (biting, aggression, etc.) seek professional help.
Puppies and dogs chew on objects to explore the world, which is normal.
Dogs chew on things for some common reasons. Young dogs chew to relieve teething pain. Adult dogs chew to keep their jaws strong and teeth clean. Chewing can also be done out of boredom, lack of exercise, mild anxiety, or stress/frustration.
However, rule out other problems that can cause destructive behavior:
- separation anxiety
- fabric sucking
Tips & Pointers
There are a few ways to reduce destruction chewing.
This intense chewing phase is typically over by six months of age. Guidance is needed to teach puppies which objects are appropriate to chew. Some good recommendations to help combat puppy teething include:
- ice cubes
- special dogs toys (that can be frozen)
- frozen wet washcloths
Normal Chewing Behavior
Chewing is normal behavior for dogs of all ages. Make sure puppies and adult dogs have a number of good and attractive toys to chew.
There are also some additional measures you can take including:
- “Dog proof” your home. Keep objects you don’t want to be chewed out of reach or behind closed doors
- Always have a good inventory of chew toys and inedible chew bones
- Give your dog some edible things to chew, like bully sticks, pig ears, rawhide bones, pig skin rolls or other natural chews
- Give your dog a puzzle toy with a treat inside – like a kong – during peak chewing times
- Spray items you don’t want to be chewed with chewing deterrents
- Supervise your dog until you feel secure his chewing is under control
- Offer your dog lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation
- Don’t confuse your dog by providing them unwanted household items to chew on
A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times greater than that of a human. A common behavior is for a dog to sniff a person’s crotch.
Human sweat glands, also known as apocrine glands, are located in the human crotch and armpits. These same glands are located in a dog’s genitals and anus, which is why dogs sniff these areas when greeting other dogs. Practically, a dog can only reach these glands in the human crotch. The scent of these glands gives a dog information about a person – age, sex, mood, and mating probability.
Tips & Pointers
The best way to help avoid this embarrassing dog greeting ritual is to greet your dog with a fist or open hand. Advise any guests to do the same.
Also, make sure to use basic commands (stay, sit) when guests visit.
Most dogs will do some amount of digging. It’s instinctual. Some breeds, like terriers, are more apt to dig due to their hunting backgrounds.
Dogs dig for many specific reasons: to escape, to track animals, to make a cool spot to lie, or to get to or hide something important to them. Some dogs also “dig” inside too – scratching at the blankets or a couch to make a perfect place to get comfortable. This dog behavior is totally normal.
Tips & Pointers
At times a dog’s digging can get frustrating or damage your home and furniture. Make sure you keep your dog well-exercised. You can also distract many dogs from digging with an interesting toy. An advanced tactic for a stubborn digger is to build a sandbox in the corner of your yard and let them dig there only. Be sure to reward them so they understand it is ok to dig only in that spot. Even consider burying interesting items in the sandbox periodically.
If none of these work, consider working with a professional trainer to reduce this stubborn habit.
If your dog is physically pressing his head against the wall or another firm object, this issue needs immediate attention. Related to this, in addition to head pressing, your dog may also stand near a wall or corner, hanging its head low, and not move. Other related symptoms to look for are seizures, compulsive pacing, reduced reflexes, visual problems, and strong changes in behavior. These behaviors are not normal and typically indicate something is wrong with the dog’s nervous system.
Head pressing is a common sign of numerous serious issues, such as a problem with the nervous system, a brain disease, or toxic poisoning.
Tips & Pointers
Get your dog to your vet immediately. This behavior could be the result of a brain tumor, some sort of trauma, a serious disease, or toxic poisoning. Getting your beloved dog to a vet soon will help increase his chances of recovery.
Howling is one of many forms of vocal communication used by dogs. Howling is instinctual and can be natural or triggered by an underlying problem.
Dogs howl to attract attention, make contact with others, and to announce their presence. Some dogs also howl in response to high-pitched sounds, such as emergency vehicle sirens or musical instruments.
Tips & Pointers
If the howling is excessive and/or becomes a problem it’s important to determine the reason behind the howling to help remedy it.
First, rule out any howling related to any possible medical conditions.
Medical Causes. Dogs often howl when they are hurt or sick. If your dog has only recently been howling, visit the vet and rule out an injury or sickness.
Separation Anxiety. If your neighbors or others tell you your dog is howling when you’re away from home then it may be due to separation anxiety. This howling usually includes additional symptoms – pacing, destruction, elimination, depression, or other signs of distress. For more information on how to deal with this problem, please read our article on puppy separation anxiety.
Attention-Seeking. In this case, this howling will usually happen in your presence when the dog wants attention, food, or desires objects. To temper, this behavior, ignore the dog’s howling. When your dog realizes that howling will make him invisible to you he’ll quickly learn to curb the howling. Be sure to reinforce with positive attention, treats, and toys. This type of howling can happen if you’re not spending a lot of time with your dog or not properly exercising them.
Certain Sounds. If your dog howls to sirens or other triggers he’ll usually stop when the sound stops. Most times this type of howling isn’t excessive – unless, of course, the triggers occur often. If needed, you can seek desensitization and counterconditioning with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) in your area. Alternatively, you can hire a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) instead.
Humping, mounting, and thrusting are normal behaviors displayed by dogs. Dogs do this in various ways. They mount and thrust against other animals, people and objects.
There are several common reasons for humping by dogs, which are mentioned below.
If your dog is excessively humping, licking, or chewing himself, or rubbing his body against things, take him to a veterinarian to rule out medical concerns. Urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, priapism (persistent, often painful erections), and skin allergies, can affect a dog’s humping behavior.
Tips & Pointers
If your dog partakes in humping behavior once or twice a day this is very normal and nothing to worry about. Besides possible medical conditions (as mentioned above) that can be responsible for this behavior, there are a few things you can do to decrease this behavior.
- Distraction. Distract your dog with an attractive chew toy, indestructible bone or treat.
- Basic Commands. Make use of basic commands when you see signs of the behavior starting – “sit”, “stay”, etc.
If this behavior becomes excessive, obnoxious, and stubborn to get rid of then seek a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT).
Jumping up is a common and natural behavior in dogs. When aggressively done, this can be annoying and possibly dangerous.
Puppies will jump up to reach their mothers when greeting them. As a result, dogs may jump up when greeting people. Dogs often jump up when excited or seeking something in someone’s hand(s).
Tips & Pointers
The best way to curb this behavior is to ignore your dog when it happens. Walk away if necessary. Do not make eye contact, speak, or touch your dog. When he relaxes and remains still, calmly reward him. Alternatively, you can also use one of your basic commands “sit”. When the dog sits and calms down you can pet and/or reward him.
Panting is normal for happy and active dogs. But, it is important to pay attention to panting. Typically it is done to regulate body temperature. There are other important reasons dogs pant as well. Beware of changes in panting patterns and if it is accompanied by other symptoms too.
Dogs will pant when overheating or experiencing heatstroke. Dogs do this to cool down. Panting regulates their body temperature. Some dogs may also pant to relieve pain or stress.
Tips & Pointers
Make sure your dog is well hydrated before, during, and after the activity. Also, with extreme panting, move your dog indoors. If your dog was injured, get him to the vet immediately. Pay close attention to increased panting possibly associated with other health problems.
Dogs eat poop for several reasons. As unpleasant as it is to us, it can be normal dog behavior. However, sometimes dogs do this due to health or behavioral issues that need to be addressed.
Young dogs may watch their mother clean them (who ingests feces as a result), and mimic her. Fear may even cause your dog to eat feces if he’s afraid of the repercussions of an accident. Then again, your dog may just be curious. He may smell certain scents in the feces and wonder what it tastes like. Eating poop can also be an instinctive solution to a nutritional deficiency.
Tips & Pointers
- Feed your dog an appropriate nutritional diet of balanced meals (2-4 times per day depending on age and breed). If you suspect the poop eating is related to diet you can provide your dog with vitamin and enzyme supplements.
- Keep your dog clean and teach them to eat, sleep and play in separate areas from waste.
- Supervise your dog closely on walks to discourage poop eating (their own or the poop of other dogs). Train them and use basic commands – “leave it” and “come”.
- Create consistency with potty breaks so your dog has a set schedule
- Using poop-eating deterrent sprays can help break that connection of poop eating. There are also special foods and treats to help with this as well.
- If you suspect that poop eating may be associated with a possible medical condition then seek the help of a vet as soon as possible.
Yawning is a form of dog communication through body language. When you see your dog yawning, they’re usually trying to communicate with you.
Like humans dogs yawn when waking up and as they’re falling asleep to a signal that they’re tired.
However, dogs typically yawn if they’re under stress or facing a threat to help ease pressure and tension. A dog also yawns when confused or threatened. In addition, dogs yawn when meeting other dogs. Although a forced introduction isn’t a good idea, yawning dogs are usually signaling they don’t plan to attack and aren’t a threat. Dogs frequently use this signal to avoid conflict.
Tips & Pointers
If your dog is yawning excessively it may be experiencing anxiety. Try to find the root cause of this to help relieve your dog’s anxiety. Alternatively, it could just be that your dog is tired and they want to go to sleep but someone is occupying its sleep space. Help them find a quiet place to sleep.
To Sum It All Up
As dog lovers, we spend a lot of time with our dogs. Dogs are continually giving us signals through their body language. It’s incumbent upon us to understand these signals since many of them can help remedy serious medical conditions, behavioral issues, or annoying behaviors we’d like to curb.