Why do dogs do that?

Dogs are cool. They make us laugh, cry, scream, and ponder. They are there to comfort us, remind us what life is really about, and show us that vanity is far from the answer to life. Dogs don’t care if they are beautiful primped stars, or mongrels with their tongue hanging out. If a dog has a booger on his nose, he’ll simply wear it proudly…and then lick it off! They usually don’t think about what they’re doing, unless trained to, and often just react when in a situation.
 
Dogs often show us humility, humbleness, innocence and personality rapped into a big ball of fur. But sometimes, it can be difficult for us humans to inturpret a dog’s behavior. How many times have you asked yourself, "Why is my dog doing that?" Well, if the answer is a lot, your not alone. Millions of dog owners often find themselves asking that exact question. I hope I can be helpful in answering that question in this entery. I will offer some scenarios, then try to explain them. There’s no way I can review every strange thing that a dog does in one blog entery, so if you have one to share, please do. I will try to answer it for you as soon as I can.
 
1.)So you find yourself sitting at home, reading the paper or watching T.V. when out of no where your dog goes berzurk. He starts running all around, cutting corners hard, jumping on the couch and then off again, with no real purpose behind this odd behavior. You sit in awe, wondering and pondering why your dog is acting like a nut. You ask yourself, "Did my dog drink some jet fuel, or ingest some kind of enhanced caffine pill or something?" The behavior lasts for what seems like 30 mins before it finally ceases and your dog colapses on the floor.
 
So why do dogs do that? Well, some dogs do it more than others, and still some dogs don’t do it at all. Some reffer to this phenomena as the "Hebbie Jebbies" or they call their dogs "spastic." The truth is… dogs that display this kind of behavior need more exercise. If I had to name one thing as a trainer that the general public doesn’t understand about dogs, it would be that dogs create and store energy all the time. If that energy is not released in a healthy manner, like a walk, run, or jog at least once a day (whether they are outside dogs or not) this energy explodes, or releases in some other form. Some dogs run around like crazy, others become destructive. Imagine drinking so much coffe, or soda, that you are wired. Then imagine that you have to sit still and not move for an entire day while you are wired on caffine. Try it, even for 30 mins. Eventually, you wouldn’t be able to contain yourself. You’d need to move, run, jog, jump up and down, or something to depense all that built up energy, right? Same applies for a dog. Only dogs don’t need to intake caffine to feel that way, their body chemistry already produces that kind of energy. As a matter of fact, that’s why its bad to give your dog caffine, and chocolate. It speeds up their heart so much, that they can have a heart attack and die. So just remember, your dog is telling you to help him release that built up energy, and staying in the back yard all day doesn’t do anything to help that.
 
Other signs that your dog has to much energy built up in his system include behaviors such as: Chasing his tail, digging, excessive barking, excessive jumping up, intense chewing, and sometimes even aggression.
 
2.)In this scenario, picture yourself at home laying in bed next to your dog. You notice that every night while you are in bed, your dog likes to lick you on the ankle. If not your ankle, then maybe she licks your hand, or her paws, or even another one of your dogs. She licks and licks until her tongue is dry. The sound of the licking is driving you mad. You tell her to stop, she turns her head to look at you, and then continues to lick anyway. You ask yourself, "Why is she doing that?"
 
Believe it or not, dogs can suffer from neurological problems just like we do. Constant licking in a certain spot on you, or your dog, at the same time every day could mean your dog has an OCD. Or obessive compulsive disorder. In the wild, dogs thrive on routine. They hunt at the same time (generally) every day, wake up around the same time, etc. But domesticated dogs don’t really need a routine to survive, however, they do need a routine to stay sane. When dogs don’t have a set routine everyday, they don’t know what to expect next, and that can make them quite nervous. Some dogs over compensate by creating their own routines. Your dog may tear up the trash a certain time everyday, or ask to go out only certain times of the day, etc.  Dogs feel they have to do it because it is routine, and with out routine, there is no sturcture to their lives. But they also do it to nurture. Dogs in the wild bathe themselves, keep wounds clean, and love on eachother by licking one another. So how do you know if your dog has an OCD, or is simply nurturing you? Simple, a dog that has developed a licking OCD, has taken licking to a whole other level. Poodles are often known to lick their own paws until the fur is gone, as well are some other breeds. Why? Because it soothes them.
 
How do you keep your dog from developing an OCD? Simple. Set up a routine for your dog and follow it everyday. In example, start your dog on a feeding schedule, maybe once in the morning, and once in the evening. Leave the food out for about 30 mins then pick it up and don’t offer it again until the next meal time. Your dog will figure it out within a day or two. Also, take your dog for a walk everyday around the same time. Maybe you could even set up a specific time every night to train your dog. The sky’s the limit. If you do this, and stay consistent, you’ll notice your dog will start reminding you when it’s time to do the routine.
 
3.) Ok, lets say in this scenario you find yourself asking why your dog loves to chase things. Every time you throw a ball, or a car or squirrel goes by, your dog takes off after it. Your dog even chases a light or reflection that goes by him on the floor.
 
So why do dogs seem to love to chase things? Well, believe it or not, there is a name for it. It’s called "prey drive." Dogs with a high prey drive will chase just about anything. While others seem to only want to chase balls. A phenomena called "ball drive" found in domestic dogs, seems to stem from prey drive in wild dog species, and we’ll talk about that more later.
 
Wolves use prey drive to catch prey. Prey drive is the instinctual urge dog species have to give chase. With out it, dogs would not survive in the wild, because they would not be motivated to chase down their food. Ball drive is the domesticated dog’s version of prey drive. Ball drive is the urge domesticated dogs have to chase balls. Some trainers and behaviorists believe it to be a seperate drive from prey drive, while others believe it is one in the same. It is described as the urge domesticated dogs have to only chase balls, or to chase balls with more enthusiasm than anything else. Prey drive has been bred more into some dogs than into others. The hunting, sporting, hound, herding, and terrier groups (AKC) should have higher prey and/or ball drive than the other two groups, because it is their job to find, chase, and retrieve. Those two groups of dogs where specifically bred for those tasks. While the non-sporting and toy groups where bred specifically to be companion dogs.
 
Prey drive can become out of control in a dog when the dog is bored, or has excessive energy like in the first scenario. They may begin chasing cars and even people walking or jogging down the street. This can also become an OCD like in the second scenario, because the dog may feel compelled to chase intruders away regardless of the "intruder’s" intentions.
 
So there you have it. You now know why dogs do some of the crazy things they do. I could write about this forever, but I do not have the space, nor the time. I have only listed 3 of the most common things I get asked about. So I encourage you to share your scenarios with me and everyone else. I will try and respond with an answer to them as soon as I can.
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About thecanineguru

I am a canine behaviorist of 23 years and offer canine rehabilitation, training, and behavior change to clients under the given name "The Canine Guru." I am known mostly for my online presence through my blogs, Doggy Times and Doggy Times II. Both were honored by MSN Editors multiple times. My methodology focuses on energy and how to use and read it. I firmly believe in operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. I don't feel that choke, pinch, or electric collars are necessary when working with dogs. The harshest method I ever use is the squirt bottle and the occasional touch, or poke. I'm known for "speaking" to dogs in their own language using body language, energy, touch, and the occasional sound.
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23 Responses to Why do dogs do that?

  1. CG says:

    Thank you so much for the licking explanation–have often wondered what the heck my Boston Terrier meant–kisses or OCD–he likes to get my ankle in bed at night as he sleeps under the covers!!!
     
    What do you make of him insisting on sitting on my lap when I work??

  2. Brandon Ross says:

    Reply to below: That is his way of getting your attention. Oreo does this with me whenever I get on the computer. After all, if I can’t be playing with him, he might as well get a nice scratch! My wife is known to do this too! ;)

  3. CG says:

    Does Oreo insist resting his head on your arm while you type??  Mr. Ozzie is VERY persistent!  He reminds me of Glen Close’s role in Fatal Attraction "i will NOT be ignored"
     
    One final question–my other boy who is a small mixed terrier (terror) who is fixated on me.  My fiancee says that Spike is in love with me–he watches me all of the time, follows me everywhere and hates everyone else.
     
    Both of my guys comes from animal rescues (PALS in Wichita) so is suspect that probably has something to do with it.

  4. Brandon Ross says:

    Reply to below: I wonder if your dogs fight over you ever. It kinda sounds like the one that "hates everyone else" sees you as his mate. This sounds strange, but it happens all the time. If you fiance can’t get near you with him on your lap, or next to you, then this is the case. He is defending his mate… you! The only person that can correct this is you. As for the one that lays his head on your arm while you type… that probably means that you spend too much time on the computer and not enough time with your dogs. Please don’t take that as an insult, but get out and walk them for an hour everyday. They are obviously trying to tell you something, and it’s probably that they need more of your undivided attention. So if you have to be on the computer a lot, make sure you tire your dogs out first, and that problem will go away on its own. :)

  5. CG says:

    Yes they do fight over me to a certain extent–they play king of mommy–if I am laying on the couch or bed they squabble–just bitey face and play growl who will be next to me.  Mixed Terrier is so much better now–still stares at me and follows me all around but is not hostile at all with my husband or step son. 

  6. Roxanne says:

    how do you stop this or control this kind of behavior

  7. Brandon Ross says:

    Roxanne, which behavior?

  8. Roxanne says:

    I have a little rat terrier x Chihuahua anyways and she chases cars, people, and trains my fear is she is going to get killed one of these days this usual happens when she slips out the door by accident. I rescued this little dog she is not one I raised from a pup. I work at a Humane Society

  9. Brandon Ross says:

    Roxanne, it sounds as though your dog is bored and full of energy. Dogs that have no outlet for all the energy they have often find ways to release it in potentially harmful ways. You need to find a trainer in your area that can come out to your home and assess the situation. The trainer could then give you some ideas to help improve or even eliminate the behavior, such as getting the dog into agility or something else that will help her release her energy in a positive and safe way. As this is a dangerous behavior to have, I would recommend that you take action immediately.

  10. jackie says:

    My terrier mix feels he must sleep close to me. he is only 15 lbs and he manages to take over an entire queen sized bed or even my mother’s king bed. it is typical to awake hanging off the edge or corner some where or fall off. I have severe sleep disorders as it is. i rescued this dog and he is smart, loving and well behaved. I DON’T WANT TO HURT HIS FEELINGS…FEEL ABANDONED. CAN YOU GIVE ME A SUGGESTION. DO DOGS GET HURT FEELINGS LIKE THAT? i though maybe a dog bed on the bed. but can’t aford to purchase one unless it will work. thank you your website answered all my questions about him running and licking his paws. i walk him daily but we are building up to longer ones. thank you

    • canineguru says:

      Jackie,

      Thank you for reading my blog! I’m glad it is helping you with your dog. As for your issue with the bed, I recommend that your dog sleep on the floor. If he is pushing you off the bed, then he is basically telling you that he owns that bed and he can stretch out when ever he wants. I always recommend that dogs sleep in their own bed on the floor or in a crate at night. The bed belongs to the leader of the pack, and dogs tend to think they are the leader if allowed to sleep on the bed. In some cases, it’s acceptable as long as the dog already knows that you own the bed and are the leader. But in your case, I wouldn’t allow it at all.

      Don’t worry about his feelings. Dogs don’t get their feelings hurt like we do. When we feel bad for dogs, especially very confident dogs, they see it as a weakness and will take over. Dogs are actually happier when they aren’t the leader, because being the leader comes with a lot of responsibility… but someone must lead. And if you are weak in your dog’s eyes, he will take over, make rules, and enforce them.

      You don’t have to buy a fancy dog bed for your dog. Just grab an old pillow and a blanket and put them on the floor, then place him on top of it and say bed. Don’t say anything else. If he leaves and hops up on the bed, say off and put him back on his bed and say bed. Repeat this until he stays on his bed. Terriers tend to be stubborn, so don’t give up. Follow through and be consistent and before you know it, the bed will be yours again. You may loose some sleep the first night you try this, so I recommend that you do this on a night where you can sleep in the next morning. Best of luck, and let me know how it goes!

  11. LaTisha says:

    Your blog was extremely helpful!
    I have noticed my dog licks her paws all the time, to the point where it’s flaming red. It’s scares me. I thought she had flees or something, gave her many ticks baths and such…found no ticks but she stilled licked…and not just her paws, everywhere! Now I know why! Thank you. Any way I can get her out of this OCD habit? She doesn’t just constantly lick herself, she also licks my feet (thought she just has a foot fetish) and she licks the floor.

    Also I think she’s depressed. Can dogs get depressed? When she was a puppy she hated being home alone and was quite destructive. However she has grown out of it. Now she would only get destructive IF we reach home HOURS later than usual. We live in an apartment so we have to be there to let he out. We usually leave on the television and sometimes on animal planet. It worked fine. But I’ve noticed that I’d come home and she’d be under the couch, she wouldn’t even come greet me. She doesn’t want to go outside and she hasn’t touched her food or water and when she finally comes out from under the chair (maybe and hour or two after I came home) she walks around all slowly and stuff like she’s sulking. I don’t understand it. What’s going on with her?
    It’s only started this week (maybe last week) but I don’t want something to be seriously wrong and notice so late that nothing can be done.

    • canineguru says:

      LaTisha,

      It sounds like your dog is very anxious and maybe even fearful. She could also have separation anxiety. Because she is licking the fur off of her paws, I recommend you have a vet check her out as soon as you can. Just to rule out any diseases, deficiencies, or other physical issues. Once you rule those out, you can contact a behaviorist in your area to help with her fear and anxiety.

      When you leave, try giving her a nice treat to chew on while you’re gone. You can use a Kong toy and fill it with her food and then cap it off with some peanut butter or cheese whiz. You can even freeze it before hand so that it takes her a little longer to get the food out. You could also use a hollow shank bone instead of a kong toy. Dogs like to chew because it releases endorphins in their brains and calms them down, so you will see very anxious dogs chewing and licking a lot. Giving her something interesting and appropriate to chew might help to relieve her stress while you’re gone.

      Yes, dogs can definitely get depressed. To counter this, make sure she gets plenty of exercise via walks, jogs, outdoor playtime, etc.

  12. Emily says:

    Hi, great article. We have a cocker spaniel and bishon frise mix, and ever since she was a puppy, she has had persistent (neurological?) issues affecting with her mouth. First, at random times her mouth would start spazzing, rapidly clicking and shaking back and forth. We would just try and comfort her, then it would stop. Eventually these episodes ended, however, since then she has continuing issues with constant licking. It is not like what you mentioned in your post, instead she leans her head back, nose towards the sky, and repeatedly licks the “air”. She does this multiple times a day, although not as often as before. If we get her attention, she just stops. Do you have any idea why she does this, and if she is in any pain? We certainly want her to be ok.

    • canineguru says:

      Emily,

      I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. It sounds as though your dog may have a neurological disorder. I suggest you take her to a canine neurologist to rule this out. The small episodes with her jaw may have been small seizures. I hope I’m wrong, but please have her checked out to be certain if you haven’t already.

      If she is in any pain she would most likely let you know. However, I am a behaviorist, not a vet. I am not qualified to diagnose neurological disorders or recommend treatment for them. Please see a qualified canine neurologist in your area a.s.a.p.

  13. Billie Sue says:

    I have been wondering why dogs walk away after going potty and then kick up dirt. my dog does this about 5 or 6 feet away from the pile and kicks in another direction.

    • canineguru says:

      Thank you for your question. Dogs kick their feet after pottying to spread their scent. Dogs actually sweat from their paws, the sweat contains pheromones, and by kicking up grass they are telling other dogs, and potentially prey, that they are here and confident. Some dogs tend to over do it while others don’t do it at all. Also, this behavior tends to occur most often away from home.

  14. Billie Sue says:

    My dog also likes my foot, I think it is because she is trying to heal it. My right heal cracks and gets sore all the time. When ever we lay down on the bed, she immediately goes to lick my foot. If I have band aids on it, she will pull them off with her teeth and then start licking

  15. Ryan Humberstone says:

    hi, thanks for doing this blog, its helpful.. i have a question, i’m 15 by the way, hope i’m allowed to comment, anyway, when my mum or me takes the sheets off of a beds mattress, my dog will jump on it, lay down, and start licking at the mattress for a minute, then just stop and lie there, could it be to do with the licking disorder thing you mentioned in the blog or something else?
    please reply, thanks :)

  16. Carol Jean Nicolaisen says:

    Best information I have ever heard on dog behavior. Don’t stop. All my concerns were addressed in your responses, but I am sure I will have more from time to time. I was concerned about hurting my dog’s feelings when I change our routine of throwing the ball. I walk her a mile every morning and evening and take her out midday. Before going to bed, I throw her the ball for about 10-15 minutes. When I do change, she seems hurt and sits up on her back legs and begs (sooooo cute, darn it). However, when I confidently tell her, “not now”, she curls up and calms down. I think dogs feed off our emotions.

  17. smriti saxena says:

    Hi Brandon. What a lovely article! Gave me so many insights! I have a question to ask you. My dog, a year old lhasa aphso potties on the couch when we leave him alone even for half an hour. He never used to do it when he was a pup, but off late he has started doing it regularly. Can you help me with this please? Thanks.

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