Every night, my (Dr. Perry Jameson) 7-year-old hound from the Charleston Animal Society, Flipper, will prepare his bed.
His routine is the same whether he is sleeping in my son Luke's bed or on a blanket on the floor. He pulls the blanket off the sofa and drags it to where he wants to lie down. He then circles repeatedly for several minutes; there is an occasional nudge with his nose to fine-tune his bed. Finally, he lies down to sleep.
I have always wondered why he does this odd behavior. No one is certain, but we speculate it is hereditary. Wolf-like dogs would walk in circles to pat down the leaves or plants they wanted to lie down on.
There are a lot of behaviors that our dogs manifest that make no sense to us but do serve a purpose for them. It is hard for me to remember they are not just small people.
Another unusual and embarrassing behavior is humping. It is definitely awkward when a neutered dog tries to hump another neutered dog. In these situations, it is usually not sexual in origin but behavioral. It is one dog trying to show dominance over the other; it may also be they are trying to gain your attention. Try redirecting with a treat or toy, or ignoring the behavior if it appears to be attention-seeking.
Coprohagia is another gross and annoying dog behavior; that is the fancy word that sounds better than "my dog likes to eat poop." I hate to say it, but this behavior at times may be normal.
Unfortunately, if Flipper can, he will eat the cats' feces and my twin girls' diapers, too. This is totally normal and all I can do is prevent availability.
A new mother dog will clean up her puppies' feces by eating it to keep them and the nest clean. It is considered abnormal if your dog eats its own or another dog's poop. Underlying diseases or dietary deficiency should be looked for which could reverse this bad habit.
It is common for young dogs to chase their tails, it is fun and a great way for them to get rid of excess energy. In older dogs it can indicate a problem and is usually associated with a problem in the rear area; they may do this with anal sac disease or certain itchy skin conditions, especially flea bite dermatitis. I have examined several dogs were this became an obsessive behavior requiring medications and behavior modification to stop.
You probably have noticed another behavior that as humans we find unacceptable: butt sniffing. We have to remember that a dog's sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive than ours. They use their noses to recognize each other more than they do their eyes. The anal sacs of each dog have a distinct odor, just like each of our faces is different. Also, smelling back there helps identify the reproductive status of that dog.
When talking to Flipper, he will occasionally cock his head to the side as if he is intently thinking about what I am saying. Dogs do this to better hear our words or to help localize where a sound is coming from. If they constantly keep their head tilted to one side, it may be a sign of underlying disease, usually of the ear or nervous system, so have them checked.
When Flipper pulls a toy out of his toy box, he will thrash it around. This is more than play behavior but instinctive for him. His ancestors would use this thrashing to kill prey they had caught.
Howling is another one of those behaviors left over from our present dog's wild ancestors. It was a way for them to keep in contact while separated hunting. Dogs' sense of sound is so refined they can distinguish the howl from individual dogs. It was probably used to enforce rank and bond the pack. The leader would howl and then the others would follow. Today, dogs probably do it for the same reasons, to announce their presence and bond with the dogs that respond.
There are some crazy behaviors our dogs do that may indicate problems and should be investigated. Some that are normal but annoying but can be modified. Then there are those we find weird or repulsive but just have to accept since they are not little people but dogs.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or veterinaryspecialtycare.com.