10 Strange Dog Behaviors Explained

Dogs might not seem as mysterious as cats, but canines do have their fair share of behaviors that are truly baffling. As humans, it’s hard for us to make sense of many canine body language and social cues. A dog’s desire to sniff butts, hump legs and chase his own tail just doesn’t translate.

To help you better understand your dog’s odd habits, we rounded up 10 dog behaviors that people commonly consider mysterious.

10 Mysterious Canine Habits And What They Mean

Sometimes, tail chasing can mean there's a problem


Chases Her Tail

If you had a tail, wouldn’t you chase it? This amusing behavior is simply a fun way for your pup to expend her excess energy. But if she does this constantly, then she might have anal gland problems or flea allergy dermatitis. In some cases, tail chasing can be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you can’t distract your dog from chasing her tail, or if you suspect she has a medical condition, you should speak to your veterinarian.

Dog licking owner's hand


Licks You

While you might not always want your dog to cover you in slobbery kisses, his licks are actually his way of showing affection. Plus, your dog has probably figured out that licking you tends to get your attention.

Of course, there are other reasons dogs lick you. Some researchers say licking is a sensory tool for dogs — similar to reaching out and touching something. Another explanation could be that canine mothers lick their puppies (and puppies lick their mothers and littermates) for grooming and social reasons. So this natural behavior continues into adulthood.

Dog cocking her head


Cocks Her Head

Whistling, speaking in a high-pitched voice or even making funny noises can cause one of dogdom’s cutest and most amusing behaviors: head tilting. Exactly why dogs cock their heads to the side remains uncertain, but behaviorists speculate that canines are trying to make sense of what they hear. They also might be trying to pick out a key word like “walk” or “fetch” to find out if what you’re saying will lead to something fun or rewarding. Another reason your pup might tilt her head is to more accurately determine the location of a sound.

If she’s consistently holding her head to one side without an obvious trigger, she might have a medical issue and should see a veterinarian.

Dog sniffing ground to eat poop


Eats Poop

This habit is just plain gross. Many things can cause coprophagy (the medical term for consuming feces). Your pup might be hungry. He could like the smell and taste. It’s possible he’s missing key nutrients from his diet. He might just think it’s fun. It’s not a behavior we want to dwell on, so for everyone’s sake, we’ll just say that if your dog is fond of eating you-know-what, ask your veterinarian for help. 

Dog howling



Wolves howl to send messages to pack members who might be far away. They also emit the loud, low-pitched sound to enforce rank. It makes sense out in the wild, but why do domesticated canines do it? It could just be a behavior passed on from their ancestral cousins, but behaviorists also think that howling is instinctively necessary and rewarding for dogs.

Dog humping another dog


Humps You, Objects or Other Dogs

Does this scenario sound familiar? Everyone’s having a great time at the dog park until Buddy starts mounting another dog. Buddy’s owners are so embarrassed and apologetic. “But he’s fixed,” they insist. Humping — whether it’s on other dogs, on your leg or on an object — is usually not for sexual reasons. And it’s probably not an attempt to dominate. More likely, neutered and spayed dogs hump because they are excited or seeking attention. To prevent this embarrassing behavior, ignore it or try to redirect it with a treat or toy.

Dog staring


Stares at You

Are your canine’s eyes always trained on you? Chances are, he’s hoping you’ll give him a treat or shower him with praise and affection. After all, it’s hard to resist those pleading, puppy-dog eyes. It’s important to keep in mind that some dogs consider direct eye contact threatening. So before you gaze back at him, make sure he isn’t showing any signs of aggression or fear.

Dog walking in a circle before lying down


Walks in Circles Before Lying Down

Sometimes we just want to tell our dogs that no matter how many times they walk in a circle before lying down in their bed, it won’t change their resting spot’s level of comfort. You can blame your dog’s ancestors for this curious ritual. Behaviorists believe that when wolf-like dogs lived in the wild, they would walk around a spot to pat down the leaves, grass or other debris to create a nice nesting spot.

Dog sniffing another dog's butt


Sniffs Other Dogs' Butts

A dog’s way of saying, “Hello, nice to meet you,” to another dog is to sniff the other dog’s butt. In the human world, this behavior could land you in jail. In the dog world, this is a socially acceptable form of greeting. But still, why sniff butts? A dog’s ability to smell is 10,000 times better than ours, and, well, there are a lot of revealing aromas that come from a canine’s rear end. 

Dog thrashing his toy


Thrashes His Toys

Sophie sure looks like she’s having fun when she vigorously shakes her stuffed squeaky duck. But the truth is, she’s manifesting one her most primal instincts: killing. OK, we’re being a little dramatic. Out in the wild, thrashing is how Sophie would kill her prey. At home, she’s just exhibiting innocent play behavior.

More on Vetstreet:


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!