Here’s my top ten dog behaviour questions I want to know the answer to with my own dogs and others I look after, starting with the biggies, and moving on to the less worrying.
Dogs can be funny, loveable, grumpy, moody, cuddly, excited and upset, just like us humans and every other animal on the planet. While some actions are obvious, and tell us exactly what mood they’re in, there are some things that dogs seem to do or have, that are universal and make dog owners, dog walkers and pet sitters anxious. It’s natural to worry, and searches online are popular for dog behaviour articles.
We expect it from puppies, where excitement translates to the little nips that dogs usually learn how to control by playing with their puppy siblings or their parents, and a puppy that bites can be one that is simply learning where the rules of play start and stop. It’s necessary to be gentle in how you approach it, as mouthing behaviour begins from early on when feeding with their mums. It can also be a sign that your pup was taken away from mum and siblings too young and hasn’t learned where the boundaries are.
If your dog is biting out of anxiety, fear or being aggressive, you are looking at a different problem, and one will require a deeper knowledge of dog understanding. You might find yourself with an issue you can’t deal with yourself if you cannot identify the behaviour causing the biting. Fear and anxiety might be a throwback to before the dog came to you, a previous negative encounter with another animal/human, or simply a nervous disposition. Looking for a compassionate dog trainer or asking a vet for help is the sensible thing to do, to ensure you deal with the situation correctly. An owner trying to stamp their authority by hitting/aggression towards their animals, in an attempt to control a dog, will only make them even more fearful and more likely to bite in future.
I’ve heard of people who rub their dogs noses in the carpet if they pee in the house. In that method, there is absolutely no understanding of the issue or the problem, and will only make the dog anxious and fearful of people, hands and wetting themselves. That will increase anxiety, and yes, you got it, increase frequency of nervous urinating.
Dogs that are house trained, are not going to urinate in your home without a reason. They might be frightened, have a urinary tract infection (UTI), be left too long without a toilet break, especially if they are ill, be anxious for some other health reason. The first thing you should look at is whether you are doing anything differently. Is there is someone new in the house, are you staying away for longer and not taking your dog out to the toilet? If the dog is with an elderly person and is older itself, there is a chance the dog isn’t getting out for toilet trips or exercise, or either dog or elderly person has dementia and has forgotten house rules.
The rule of thumb is not to punish, but look for the reasons why a dog has begun to urinate in the house. In most cases, a vet trip is going to be on the cards if they cannot hold their water, either that, of you have to commit to making more frequent trips home to let them empty their bowels or bladder.
Most of us that are familiar with dogs have seen this happen, as it’s fairly frequent behaviour. It looks a bit minging to some and funny to others, but the long and short of it is that the dog needs a bit of help.
The most mild reason for scooting may be a long blade of grass or grass seed irritating the anus after a poop, but that’s easily noticed and cleaned. If the area is red and inflamed, perhaps an allergy, piles, constipation or diarrhoea are having an effect.
Scooting usually requires action as is unlikely to resolve itself. Anal sack glands are most often the issue. A vet will try to empty the glands and advise on future maintenance. This isn’t something you can do at home, unless you’ve been taught how to do it, as the glands can burst if handled incorrectly. Your dog might need medication such as antibiotics if there is an abscess and in extreme cases, surgery is required.
To help reduce blocked anal glands in animals that are prone to them, try to keep them at a healthy weight, active and eating a fibre rich diet.
Very common in dogs, because they tend to sniff butts, roll around in fox poo and generally get themselves into plenty unhygienic places. If there is a difference in the general doggy breath smell, and it begins to change and smell very pungent or different to the usual, or if breath is almondy or scenting or pear drops, halitosis should be sending you with your pup to the vet.
Rancid breath could be a sign of liver and kidney disease, dental concerns, diabetes and more.
Lets talk about that fox poop.. Why do dogs find it so attractive to roll in? I’ve not really got any clue, other than it must be like cat nip for cats. Some people think it stems from their mothers cleaning them when they were puppies, as she’d lick them to clean pups after they poop, which is a normal part of behaviour, and hard work for the mum pooch and dogs might simply mimic this.
Some types of poop may smell enticing, as disgusting as this seems to us. Horse poop looks mostly like hay, and perhaps dogs smell the food in some types of poop and find the scent attractive.
Other reasons for eating poop can be fear and anxiety if they think they might be in trouble for pooping where they think they shouldn’t.
It might also be one of those moments where your dog sees something, doesn’t recognise it, and gives it a go to see what it tastes like. Some people say eating poop can be as a result of a nutritional deficiency. I’m not so sure about that, but if your dog is losing or gaining weight or seems generally ill, some further exploration might be needed.
Anxious dogs do more than just give nips, bites or growls. The can seem submissive by shaking, tucking in their tails or madly trying to escape the situation they are in by baking, running, pooping or urinating. There area many more signs of anxiety, which are all fairly obvious. Nervous dogs can bite themselves out of fear.
Loud noises, fireworks, aggressive or abusive people and animals, being left alone, having total strangers in their space daily, and many other things can cause anxiety, although the biggest one is usually recognised as separation anxiety, where your dog is left alone for longer spells of time than they can cope with. For some dogs that might be an hour, and for other dogs, that might be four hours, or six, or any time if they need the toilet and have no way of getting out or relieving themselves.
Dogs are pack animals and prefer company at all times. If you are going to be away for spells regularly, think about how you can make that time more comfortable for your pet. Some people will take their dogs out for a long walk before they go out, others might hire a dog walker, and some put their dogs to day care or have family members and friends look after their animals.
If this is new behaviour in a previously contented dog, then it’s time to contact the vet for help/
My lab was a terrible digger. I say terrrible, but it was a way of keeping active for her, her ears up, her face happy and smiling, digging away in the earth, or burrowing down in sand at the beach. We tend not to think of digging as a potentially problematic issue, unless our pets are digging down at the fence to escape. If they are, we have to wonder why, and try to mitigate escapist behaviour.
Dogs often bury things they want to go back to. In domestic settings, dogs might bury treats and bones for later, might be trying to escape, or want to chase/get to another animal that passes by or they have the scent of. Intact males can be terrible diggers to try to get to a local female in heat. If there is no shade, a dog might also dig to get a nice cool place to lie down in.
Digging only really becomes an issue with escapism or if it happens inside, where asking a dog trainer for help is probably the way to go.
There’s not a dog in the land who doesn’t pant at times. A dog who is thirsty, overheated, or who has been exercised a lot, is simply reducing body temperature. Carry water with you when you go for a long walk, to help your furry friend regulate their body temperature if they are prone to that, and ensure they have fluid beforehand.
However, dogs who are in pain, will also begin to pant, and will need medical attention. Stress can also cause this behaviour as a means for the dog to try and calm itself. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the reasons for certain behaviours.
Yes, yawning is a thing that means more than ‘I’m tired,’ to dogs. I notice with animals, that they often yawn when they are confused, and it might be accompanied by the head tilt, as if they are confused and furrowing their brows, tilting their head to be able to think more clearly and work out what you might have said or done and why.
Another reason for yawning can be anxiety about new people, places or things. If that’s the case, let the dog come to terms with changes at their own pace and slowly.
There are different schools of thought on these. With my own animals, I’ve found that knee sitting was more to do with saying ‘you’re mine,’ as sitting on top of me while playing or if other people were around, seemed more of a protective stance. If there is aggression, worry, or not done in play, this is going to be another sign of anxiety.
When moving between my legs while out for a walk, it has tended to be animals unsure of what’s ahead or looking for protection and reassurance. Whatever the reason, the animal is looking for you to reassure them that all is ok.