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'why-does-my-dog-do-that

Why does my dog do that?


by Lauren Samet
14/01/2022


Have you ever wondered what causes the zoomies or why your dog always ignores you on walks? Well, in the world of dog behaviour there is a lot going on!

There can be many reasons why dogs do what they do, but to help give you a better insight and understanding into common pet behaviours, I’ve looked into a variety of popular questions, which may help you to build a stronger relationship with your dog.

 

Why does my dog sniff so much?

Sniffing is hugely important and an often overlooked aspect of a dog’s behavioural repertoire.

With over 100 million scent receptors in their noses and an olfactory (smell) centre in the brain 40time larger than our own, a dog’s sense of smell (depending on the breed) can be anywhere from 10,000 – 100,000 times greater than ours. To put that into context, it has been shown that a dog can detect a scent molecule at concentrations of one part per trillion or the equivalent of smelling a drop of liquid in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

Dogs use scent as their primary sense to investigate the world around them - just like we’d use sight or sound. It can help them to communicate with other dogs, gauge their identity, mood and gender or determine how safe a neighbourhood may be and if they’re close to home. This information can be very important to less confident dogs that may want to learn as much as possible about a new environment. You may also notice that as dog's age, their other senses such as sight or hearing may deteriorate so they’ll often rely on their sense of smell to guide them.

Scent games can be very enriching for dogs and help keep them mentally stimulated. Scattering food in the grass, hiding their favourite toy or setting a scent trail are all activities that can allow your dog to put their sniffing superpowers to the test and engage with something that they are really good at!

Fun Fact: Dogs have been shown to be able to detect the smell of an object or a person as far as 20 kilometres away!

 

Why does my dog do the zoomies?

The dictionary defines the zoomies as “a sudden burst of frenetic energy in which an animal (typically a dog or cat) runs to and fro” and science describes this behaviour as a FRAP (Frenetic Random Activity Period). Sound familiar? You’ll know it’s happening when dogs tuck their tail and sprint in circles around the house or garden at top speed, and although it doesn’t last long, it can be quite entertaining to watch.

Zoomies are most commonly seen in puppies or younger dogs when they get overexcited or suddenly get a chance to release pent up energy. It is thought to be correlated with a burst of adrenaline in the body. Although many dogs outgrow the zoomies, from time to time, even adult dogs can still get overcome with the urge to zoom!

Many owners may notice a pattern when their puppy gets the zoomies. This could be before bed, which is thought to be a puppy preparing itself for rest by releasing pent up energy (also likely to be why some puppies get playful in the evenings), after bathing, after a car journey and sometimes after eating. Appropriate exercise and mental stimulation can help stabilise your dog’s excess energy levels, however, for many dogs, it is just part and parcel of growing up.

 

Why does my dog raise their hackles?

Also known as the hair standing up on their back and neck, and sometimes at the base of the tail too, raising hackles isn’t actually a dog behaviour but instead, an involuntary reflex known as piloerection (meaning “erection of hair”).

Often people see raised hackles as a sign of aggression but it is actually just a natural reaction to an aroused state, which could be related to one of several emotions including fear, anxiety, excitement, nervousness or anger. To best understand which emotion they’re emitting, it is best to assess the context of the situation and take into account the rest of their body language.

 

Why does my dog drool so much?

It’s normal for all dogs to drool, and whilst it can sometimes be inconvenient or gross, saliva (a.k.a. drool) is an important part of their digestive functioning and oral health. It acts as a natural lubricant for swallowing food and contains enzymes that help begin the digestive process.

Dogs will often drool in the presence of food or interesting smells, but drooling can also indicate nausea (think car sickness as an example), pain, or an emotional state such as nervousness, fear or excitement. Beware that it can also be a sign of ingesting a toxin, and even heatstroke, so it is important to be aware of what’s normal for your pooch and when it may need some extra attention.

Certain breeds, like St Bernards, Mastiffs, Bulldogs and Bloodhounds, for example, do drool more than others due to their mouth formation and larger jowls, which make it difficult for them to hold in liquids - so be prepared for extra slobber if you’re considering one of these breed types.

If you do own a particularly slobbery dog then you may want to keep a couple of dedicated towels on hand to help keep the skin around their mouths clean and dry in order to avoid the area getting sore.

If you’re concerned that your dog is drooling more than what you’d consider normal for them, then I recommend speaking to your vet.

 

Why does my dog eat grass?

It’s still not yet fully understood why some dogs have such a liking for eating grass. Some of the hypotheses as to why dogs eat grass include:

Generally, if your dog is a bit of a grazer, and eating grass does not make them sick too often, then this behaviour should be nothing to worry about (so long as the grass is not contaminated with pesticides or other chemicals). However, do speak to your vet if they’re vomiting regularly or this behaviour is causing you concern.

If you’re interested in finding out more about why dogs eat grass, then I’ve written a dedicated article on the topic that you can read here.

 

Why does my dog ignore me out on walks?

Whilst out and about, there can be much excitement and sensory overload for your dog that it’s easy for them to get distracted when away from home.  

We discussed dogs’ incredible sense of smell earlier on, so we can only imagine what they experience when faced with a park full of new smells, sights and sounds - it must be overwhelming! Dogs also learn quickly and will remember where they last found leftover food on the floor, chased the birds or found something ‘fun’ to roll in, so it’s no wonder we can find it difficult to capture their attention.

So the best way to compete? Positive reinforcement! If you want to tidy up your dog’s recall or encourage more “checking in” whilst out and about on walks, then you need to have something that competes with their surroundings. As basic as it sounds nine out of ten times that can be a tasty treat or their favourite toy, which can be saved solely for playtime on walks.

Depending on the dog, this may mean saving a few kibbles from their dinner may do the trick, or if your dog requires a bit more coaxing, something a bit tastier (see Vitapaws treat range) could be preferred. Whenever your dog checks in with you (this could be a subtle quick glance or circling back around to you when off lead), make sure to give them plenty of praise and reinforce that behaviour with the treat. They will soon learn that regularly checking in with you is worth the reward!

 

Why does my dog shake it off?

Blink and you might miss it, but this common behaviour can often goes unnoticed by owners. You may spot that after certain situations your dog has a quick shake-off, which is actually a release of tension and can be a subtle sign that your dog has just undergone an over-exciting or stressful event (even albeit a small one).

It is useful to monitor as an owner because it can help you understand when your dog may be struggling in certain situations and may need help with their confidence building, reassurance or even need to avoid particular scenarios that may cause distress.

 

Why does my dog growl at me?

Growling, or any other kind of vocalisation, is a dog’s way of trying to communicate with you. It’s important they’re listened to because often they can be trying to warn you or give a sign that they’re uncomfortable with a situation.

There can be many different reasons why your dog may be growling, including:

· Feeling trapped, cornered or unable to escape

· Feeling pain or associating certain actions with pain (e.g., sharp nerve pain or joint pain when touched in a certain place or picked up),

· Feeling fearful

· Feeling stressed or frustrated (e.g., worried a toy will be taken from them)

If a dog’s growls are often ignored, then this can amplify feelings of stress, anxiety or frustration and they may resort to other methods of communication. If they regularly feel ignored, then this can become a risk to their wellbeing.

It is always best to seek behavioural support for this type of behaviour because each dog is so different there is not necessarily a “one answer fits all” way of managing it. Learning the cause of the behaviour and how to manage it can help prevent it from escalating into a problem behaviour.

 

Why does my dog eat so fast?

Just like us, more often than not, dogs eat so fast because they just enjoy their food and are hungry!

However, there may be instances when it can be a learnt behaviour, for example, if food has been scarce in the past, they’ve had to compete with others for meals or worried it might be taken away from them.

To help slow down quick-eaters, you can try placing their meals in a puzzle feeder (or other feeding enrichment device) to make them ‘work’ for their food. Alternatively, you could also try scattering their food across the floor to help slow them down – even if it is only by a few seconds!

If you have more than one dog it may help to separate them during dinner times so that they can relax and enjoy their food without the worry of competition.

 

Why does my dog drink from puddles?

One thing that may never cease to amaze dog owners, is a dog’s preference to drink from a muddy puddle when there is a freshly-poured bowl of clean water waiting for them nearby.

One of the most popular ideas, of why this happens, is simply a taste preference. Unlike our tap water, rainwater doesn’t contain chlorine, which taints the taste and is much more noticeable to dogs than us. Puddles and natural water sources can also contain lots of new and interesting smells that can be too tempting for dogs not to investigate.

Whilst in most cases it will usually be ok if your dog has a drink from rainwater, it is worth keeping an eye on this because in some cases the bacteria in standing water may cause illness. To help train your dog out of this behaviour, use positive reinforcement techniques to tempt them away from stagnant water and take bottled fresh water to ensure they’re kept hydrated whilst on walks. If you keep outdoor water bowls, regularly empty out the rainwater and replace it with water from the tap to avoid further temptation. 

 

Conclusion

In the world of dog behaviour, there are many shades of grey and the answers are not always as clear as black and white.

Why some dogs perform certain behaviours that others don’t can be influenced by a variety of different factors including their age, breed, sex, neuter status, genetics, past experiences, prior training, diet, environment and access to veterinary care. Likewise, even the same behaviours between different dogs can have different reasoning or motivations behind them.

If you want to find out more about dog behaviour there are some reputable sources on the internet (see references below), great books, training classes and dog behaviourists that can provide excellent advice and further information.


References & Web Resources
*Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) - sets and oversees standards of professional competence and animal welfare in the training and behaviour therapy of animals. A list of ABTC-Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourists and Veterinary can be found here on the site.
De Castro, A.C.V.; Fuchs, D.; Morello, G.M.; Pastur, S.; De Sousa, L.; Olsson, I.A.S. Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. PLoS ONE 2020, 15, e0225023. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225023.
Vieira de Castro, A.C.; Barrett, J.; de Sousa, L.; Olsson, I.A.S. Carrots versus sticks: The relationship between training meth-ods and dog-owner attachment. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 2019, 219, 104831. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2019.104831.Dogs Trust’s Dog School
Hart, B. L. (2008). Why do dogs and cats eat grass? Veterinary medicine, 103(12), 648.
Lindsay, S. Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning; John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2013. Available online: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zZcMxLKpM0UC (accessed on 4 June 2021).
Todd, Z. (2020) Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Greystone Books: Vancouver, Canada.

 



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