Dogs are amusing creates, to say the least! Read on to discover the motives behind 12 common dog behaviors.

12 Common Dog Behaviors Explained

Spend even a little time with dogs and you’ll probably catch them doing something that makes you wonder: Why the heck are they doing that? Dogs are amusing creatures that certainly know how to make us laugh. But, their quirky behaviors are often way more than entertainment. Read on to discover the motives behind 12 common dog behaviors.

1. Chasing Their Tail

Round and round they go. How funny is it to watch a dog run in tight circles, on a mission to capture their own tail?! This amusing behavior is usually a fun way for your pup to bust-boredom and expend his excess energy. If you often sit nearby laughing at the behavior, your dog may start to like the extra attention and begin chasing his tail when seeking attention. 

While tail-chasing is normally nothing to worry about, if it’s constant and paired with other odd behaviors, it may be a sign of flea allergy dermatitis or anal gland problems. Dogs can also develop obsessive-compulsive disorder behaviors. If you suspect something serious, consult with your veterinarian. 

2. Sniffing Another Dog’s Butt

You’ve watched your dog do it a million times—sniff another canine’s butt. Turns out, the time a dog spends smelling is really an information gathering session. It’s just like the famous song says:

Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you. Getting to like you. Getting to hope you like me!

There’s so much to learn from the chemical scents of another pooch’s anal glands. One little butt sniffing session will give Fido all kinds of information about who he’s sniffing. He’ll learn things like the other pooch’s:

  • Diet
  • Gender
  • Health
  • Emotional state

So, the answer is that Fido smells butts and everything else in his pathway to learn about the world around him. A dog’s nose is the window to his world.

3. Scooting Their Butt Across the Floor

Speaking of doggy butts, dogs scoot their bums on the ground because something is bothering them back there. And that something is usually their anal glands. Located internally on each side of your dog’s anus (at approximately 4 and 8 o’clock) are small pouches—they are called anal glands. They make a smelly, oily fluid used to identify each other and mark their territory. Usually, these glands drain themselves when they pass a healthy bowel movement of normal consistency. If they don’t empty properly, though, the anal glands can become inflamed, blocked, and abscessed. This causes a lot of discomfort for your canine cutie. So, in an attempt to relieve that discomfort, they will scoot their butt across the floor.

If you’re up for the challenge, you can learn to drain your dog’s anal glands yourself. An experienced groomer or your local veterinarian can step you through the process in-person to help you feel comfortable. However, many people opt for their groomer or vet to do it for them. 

Good nutrition and a high-fiber diet can help prevent a dog’s anal sacs from becoming impacted. High fiber creates bulk and promotes healthy stools, which in turn promotes natural anal sac excretion when your dog has a bowel movement. It’s important to note that soft or loose stools do not promote the emptying of the anal sacs. The key is making sure Fido has a healthy formed stool.

Is your dog dragging his butt on the ground? Find out the top four common reasons a dog scoots and what you should do about it.

4. Wiping Their Paws After Going to the Bathroom 

Have you ever noticed your dog wiping his paws on the ground after going to the bathroom? Some dog moms refer to this action as scratching the ground or kicking up the ground. It’s something my little Diego does all the time! After he does “number 1” or “number 2,” he steps to the side and begins brushing his feet against the grass. While I personally find the action adorable (because it looks like they’re doing a little dance), it’s something that confuses many pet parents. 

Dogs actually do this behavior as a way of marking their territory. You see, a dog’s paws are covered in scent glands that produce pheromones. So when your dog wipes his feet on the grass, he’s actually leaving behind his scent so other dogs can pick up on it. Since every dog has a unique scent, when your pooch wipes his paws on the grass after going to the bathroom, he is basically signing his name next to his work! 

Experts say there’s a visual aspect to it too. The act of scratching itself can grab another dog’s attention. Plus, the scratch marks left on the ground act as a visual marker. 

5. Rolling in the Grass

Have you ever watched a dog roll around in the grass, shimmying his back all over the ground with his paws waving in the air? If so, you’ve probably wondered what the heck he’s doing! Well, it turns out rolling in the grass is one of the most natural and common canine behaviors. And, depending on the roll, it can have many different meanings. 

  • Some dogs use this wiggle as territorial marking. It’s their way of transferring their scent onto the grass and letting everyone else know they’ve been there!
  • On the other hand, it may be a way for your dog to cover up his own scent. This is a leftover instinct from their wild ancestors.
  • If Fido rolls around in the grass after a nice bath, he may not like the shampoo fragrance. So, he’s turned to nature to cover that smell up! 
  • One of life’s many pleasures is a back massage. Sometimes Fido or Fefe will take to the grass to do the rub and roll because it feels so good! Smart – right?!
  • If your pooch looks like he’s uncomfortable or trying to relieve himself then he may be trying to scratch an itch. 
  • When a dog sheds excessively it can be really uncomfortable for him, especially if he has hair coming out in clumps. Rolling in the grass can be an attempt to brush out some of the loosened hair. 
Have you ever watched your pup shimmy his back all over the grass with his paws waving in the air? Find out the reasons why dogs roll in the grass!

6. Eating Poop

Okay … so this is probably one of the most disgusting things some fur babies do. There are many things that can cause coprophagy (the medical term for dining on doodoo)

If your pooch isn’t getting enough calories, digestive enzymes, and nutrients, he will begin searching for them elsewhere (like in his poop)! Or, if your dog has a digestive issue and isn’t fully absorbing his food, the partially digested food particles in his poop may begin to look pretty appetizing. 

It may also be an attempt to keep his space clean. Or your pup may just be bored or seeking attention. Check out this full post for more on this topic and tips to stop the nasty habit.

7. Humping Other Dogs or Objects

Dogs humping … it’s a behavior that makes pet parents either super uncomfortable, embarrassed, confused, or a little entertained. Sometimes they’re wrapping their front paws around another canine to get in a few good hip thrusts. Other times it’s a squeaky toy or pillow. And then there are those moments where the intended mounting post is your hand or leg. Whatever the case, humping or mounting is natural for all dogs. Yes, all dogs. 

While the motive can be sexual, it’s usually not. Sometimes it’s a dominance thing, it may be attention-seeking, and other times it’s just a sign your dog is having fun and feels excited. If your pup humps another dog during every play session, it may be a sign of an undersocialized dog. 

It's a behavior that makes dog parents either uncomfortable, embarrassed, confused, or a little entertained. Whatever your reaction, find out why dogs hump!

8. Licking People

Does your dog love giving you kisses? Often times, the reason your pup is licking your face is to show affection! So, they may really be giving you kisses. 

Some other reasons dogs like to lick us: They’re seeking attention or they like the salty taste of our skin. Plus, a lot of pet parents encourage this behavior without even realizing it. If you laugh, kiss back, start talking “baby talk,” or offer a treat afterward, then you are encouraging the behavior.

9. Panting

Dogs pant primarily to cool themselves off. When they pant, they release hot air from their lungs and let in cooler external air. This ultimately helps evaporate water on their tongue, inside their mouth, nasal passages, and upper respiratory tract. As this water evaporates, your dog’s body is able to regulate its body temperature and cool down. 

While dogs do have natural ways to cool themselves down, they aren’t always the most effective — especially if the outside air temperature is the same (or even higher) than a dog’s normal body temperature of 102° F. You may not realize it, but heat exhaustion and heat stroke can happen very quickly in dogs. That’s why excessive panting on a hot summer day is never something to ignore. 

10. Tilting Their Head

Is there anything more awe-worthy than when dogs tilt their head to the side? While there’s no denying the cuteness, have you ever wondered why they do it? Well, there are a few theories. The top two:

This first one is all about seeing our facial expressions better. According to Dr. Stanley Coren—a professor, psychologist, and author who frequently writes about canines—dogs tilt their heads to the side in an attempt to see the lower portion of our face. That’s because our mouth area is vital for human emotional expressions. 

Another theory says it’s a way for dogs to hear better. Dogs can hear sounds about four times better than humans, but sometimes they need to reposition their ears for maximum benefit. Psychologist Alexandra Horowitz—author of Inside Of A Dog: What They See, Smell and Know—believes the head tilt allows dogs to adjust the floppy parts of their ears and open up their ear canal. This not only allows them to hear our words better, but it also helps them to better judge a sound’s location and distance.

Is there anything more awe-worthy than when dogs tilt their head to the side? You know it's cute, now find out why they do it! Read on for three theories.

11. Aggressively Shaking His Toys During Play

Most experts agree that this is a behavioral instinct left over from dogs’ ancestors – the wolves. In the wild, that’s how an animal would capture their prey. They would grab the critter in their mouth and shake aggressively from side-to-side until it was dead. 

If your dog loves to grab and shake his toys, there’s no real need to worry—this is totally normal! It’s important to know that, although your pampered pooch might still have the instinct to shake and toss that cute little stuffed toy, he’s not actually on a killing spree. Rather, he’s just out to have some fun. With that said, if he’s aggressively shaking and growling during his play, don’t just go over and pull the toy away from him. You don’t want to accidentally get nipped! 

Does your dog take his toys and shake them from side-to-side in his mouth? What about when you play tug-of-war? Does he do it then too? Find out why!

12. Yawning

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: When my dog yawns that must be a sign that he’s sleepy or bored. Well, while that’s sometimes the case, a dog yawn doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as a human yawn. Experts say a dog yawn can mean a variety of things, including:

  • He’s feeling stressed out
  • Have you ever noticed your dog yawning during a long training session? If so, he may be trying to tell you that he’s had enough and needs a break.
  • If your dog starts yawning as soon as you walk through the door, is waiting for dinner, or watches you pick up his leash to go for a long walk then he may be showing you that he’s excited!
A dog yawn doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as a human yawn. Read on to find out the various reasons dogs yawn and decode canine body language.

Check out our Behavior section for even more reads that decode popular dog behaviors!