5 of your dog's weirdest behaviours explained!
There’s a reason for everything, including your pup’s funniest little quirks
Those of us that live with dogs spend countless hours with our pets (I have two little white furballs leaning on either side of my lap as I write this). We know all their little idiosyncrasies, like which house they always bark at or how they like the bison better than the chicken kibble. We trust our gut when it comes to how our dog feels and, for the most part, we feel that we really "get each other." Then, one day, your beloved Fido does something so weird that it makes you question whether you ever knew him at all.
As a trainer, I hear about these little quirks constantly. Most people are surprised to know that there are, in fact, really good reasons for why dogs do what they do. What might seem weird to us usually makes perfect sense from a dog's perspective and has often been perfected over thousands of years of evolution. Here are five of the most common strange dog behaviours out there, explained.
Most people are embarrassed, appalled and sometimes even insulted when their dog humps or is humped by another dog. In the dog world, we call this behaviour "mounting," and it's so often misunderstood.
In her book, Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker, training expert Jean Donaldson explains that dogs are blessed with these wonderful, built-in biological phenomena called Fixed Action Patterns (FAP). These are instinctual behaviours that our dogs, and plenty of other animals, don't have to think about — they just happen as a natural response to whatever's going on in their environment.
Because there's so much variation in dogs, of course, we might not see the same FAPs show up in every single animal. One dog might be obsessed with chasing, while another may be really focused on shaking and "killing" that squeaky plush toy. But Donaldson explains that these FAPs usually fall under four categories: fight, flight, food — and reproduction.
These days, we seem to have become a little "buttoned-up" when it comes to the latter kind of behaviour. While we may be able to accept that play imitates life in all other avenues, we're reluctant to include sex in that repertoire. But you can rest assured that it's normal (within reason) and a part of normal dog play.
You know when everyone is winding down for the night, or you've just come in from a walk, and all of a sudden your dog starts running really fast, and all over the house, like he's lost his mind? You might be surprised to learn that these fits of canine possession that we often call "zoomies" actually have a name. They're called Frenetic Random Activity Periods (or FRAPs).
Marc Bekhoff, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, wrote a piece for Psychology Today in which he explains that engaging in FRAPs is a really normal and healthy part of dog life. "I spend a lot of time at dog parks and people often ask me if it's okay for dogs to engage in zoomies. My answer is always something like, 'Yep, as long as you're sure that she or he won't harm themselves or others and it's done in a safe area,'" he notes. So rather than trying to chase Fido down while he whips around your living room, why not sit back and have a good laugh?
Hiding and burying treats or food
My sister's Yorkie used to take his little bone toy and push it under a throw pillow. Then, he would get so anxious about someone finding it that he'd "dig" it back up again and hide it somewhere entirely different. My sister was always finding little dog treasures buried under her duvet or in the laundry basket, and she's not alone. Many of my clients tell me how their dogs take one piece of kibble at a time and hide them all over the house. What exactly is going on here?
Experts call this activity, a hilarious holdover from ancient times, "food caching." Alexandra Horowitz, an expert in dog cognition and professor at Barnard College, examines this behaviour in her book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. "Some suggest, reasonably, that dogs' bone-burying behaviour is tied to an ancestral urge to stash some food aside for the lean times," she writes. As historically opportunistic feeders, it makes perfect sense for your pup to bury his food and move it around as soon as he gets it. A dog can never be too careful!
Circling before lying down
We've all seen our dogs do this.They circle and circle and circle and circle, then dig and paw at the bed before finally flopping down for a nap. But while there's a lot of speculation about why dogs do this, there's not a whole lot of consensus. Is it to ensure that there are no unseen rats or snakes in their bed? Or is it simply about making a spot more comfortable?
The most interesting investigation that I could find on the topic came from University of British Columbia professor and author Stanley Coren. Coren conducted an experiment where dogs were offered a nap on a smooth surface (a flat-weave carpet) versus an uneven surface (a loose shag carpet, placed in the pen with wrinkles and lumps).
It turns out that the dogs napping on the uneven surface were nearly three times more likely to circle. While we can't totally rule out the theory of the hidden vermin (uneven surfaces are more likely to hide things, after all), it could be that dogs really just want to make their beds as comfy as possible — and who can blame them?
Scratching the ground after urination or defecation
You're out on a walk and Fido pees on a bush. You would think that would be sufficient to let all the other dogs in the area know he's there. But hold on, now he's scratching the ground near his waste as though his life depends on it. Why? Dogs have scent glands on the pads of their feet that make for a pretty great piece of ID. When the poop smell has long faded or the pee has been washed away by rain, this little calling card will have much more endurance.
Horowitz explains that this ground scratching action, "adds new odors to the mix … but may also serve as a complementary visual cue leading a dog to the source of the odour for closer examination." Think about it as the dog version of a flashing neon sign — self-promotion at its finest.
Danielle Hodges is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and a Licensed Family Paws Parent Educator for dog, baby and toddler safety. She is co-owner of Follow the Leader Inc Dog Training School with locations in Toronto and Hamilton.