Why does my dog do that? Part 2

Questions answered about your dog's strangest behaviors

ORLANDO, Fla. – Curious dog owners, rejoice.

Just when you thought you got all your questions answered about your furry friend during the first installment of "Why Does My Dog Do That?" -- there's more.

Lorena Patti, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Waggers Dog Works in southwest Orlando, revealed so many hidden twists about my golden doodle's odd behavior during the first round of questions that I couldn't help but come back for more. 

From dreams to barks, we're diving deeper into the daily quirks that make dogs so awesome.

1. Why does my dog bark at other dogs? Are they really communicating?

Lorena: Yep! But they're not really "talking", at least not like we humans do. When dogs communicate, vocalizations are only a small part of the deal: dogs use mostly body language and scent to communicate. When you hear a bark, most likely the dog is either trying to get attention, trying to make the other dog to go away (if scared), or even just showing frustration if they can't get to the other dog.

2. Why does my dog bring me their toy every night when I get home? 

Lorena: This is such a sweet behavior and one of my favorites. They are hard to resist when they do that, aren't they? Some dogs, like retrievers, have a genetic predisposition to carry things in their mouths. But is that all there is to it? Well, keep in mind that behavior always has a reason. I suspect that since the sight of our furry BFF carrying a toy to us is hard to resist, we have a tendency to give them attention, and possibly engage in a quick game of tug or fetch with them. From our pup's point of view, that's a great deal! It's almost a guarantee of interaction and fun with us as soon as we walk through the door, so it's a great payoff for our dogs to present us with a toy! 

3. OK, time to talk about the dirty stuff. Why does my dog like to roll in smelly things, like bird poop or dirt? It's so gross.

Lorena: No way, dude! It's the best!! Well, from a dog's point of view, at least. Smell is a HUGE part of a dog's life. It's thought that this comes from a dog's instinct from olden days when they would "hide" their scent by camouflaging it with another. Then again, it may just smell so good to them! Keep in mind that for dogs, smells are more than just pleasant or unpleasant: they convey all sorts of information! This can be their version of getting lost in a super interesting gossip online article! There's not much to be done about it on our end, other than giving them a very... thorough... bath. (Ugh!)

Why does my dog roll in smelly stuff?

4. Why do some female dogs lift their leg when they pee and some male dogs don't?

Lorena: Aaaand we're back to scent. Dogs and scent. It's a thing. 

Every time a dog urinates, it leaves scent behind. When a dog lifts a leg to pee, it can scent mark in a higher location (making it harder for another dog to come by and cover their scent with their own marking). Male dogs are more likely to lift a leg to do this, but yes, some female dogs will do it as well. And you are right: some male dogs never get past the "puppy squat." The drive just isn't that big of a deal to them.

5. Why do some dogs drag their butt along the ground? 

Lorena: I hope you're not eating something right now. If you are, you may want to take a break from it. I'll wait.

So, turns out dogs have glands just on the inside of their anus. They are supposed to be expressed automatically when a dog defecates, but for some dogs, this doesn't work as designed. When a dog drags their behind on the ground, it means that they are uncomfortable back there. They may need to be wiped up, or it can mean that their glands are full and not emptying as they should. If their bum is clean of excrement and they are doing this often, you will want to make an appointment with your veterinarian: they will take care of helping out in the gland department and make sure that there's nothing else that's going on. 

Sorry about your snack.

6. Why does my dog like to hang his head out of the window when I'm driving?

Lorena: Because it's FUN! Best! Day! Everrrrrr! So many scents! 

Seriously, they do it because they are having a great time doing it! The number and variety of scents that they pick up as the world whizzes by has to be incredible for them. Still, make sure to keep an eye on your surroundings when your dog does this, and avoid letting them do this when on the highway. We want to make sure your pooch stays safe when going for a sniff-ride!

7. My dog moves a lot when he's sleeping. Could he be having a bad dream? What do you think a bad dream looks like for a dog? 

Lorena: The last time I tried a Vulcan Mind Meld with my dog, she looked worried about me. So, sadly, I still don't know without a doubt what is going on inside any dog's head. However, it has been shown that dogs go through REM sleep, like we do, so it's likely that they dream as well. Moving around could be a bad dream, or it could be a dream about chasing a squirrel. I keep an eye on my dog when she is "dreaming" -- if the activity lasts more than a few seconds, or starts to get louder or more vocal, I'll wake her up, just in case. 

8. Why do some dogs start friendly but end up scared of everything? 

Lorena: As puppies grow up, the changes are not limited to the physical ones: there is SO MUCH going on in their brains, and this also results in changes in the way that they see the world. There are various elements that can determine how a dog winds up seeing the world:

1. Early Life Experience/Socialization: As puppies, when they come home to us (hopefully no earlier than 8 weeks of age), most dogs are very open to new experiences. They are smack in the middle of their secondary socialization period, which lasts until about 12-16 weeks of age. If you have heard that one of the most important things one needs to do is to socialize them, this is what we refer to. At this age, puppies tend to see novel things as, “Cool! Let me check that out!" After 12-16 weeks of age, new things will be seen as “this may be dangerous to me.” Turns out this is good for survival, but can backfire if a pup hasn’t been exposed to new things as a pup -- and fears of the world at large can develop after this time. In order to set our pups up for success and to minimize the chances that this happens, it’s important to socialize them to most of the things they are likely to encounter in the human world. A great socialization checklist can be found here: https://petprofessionalguild.com/Resources/Documents/Puppy%20Socialization%20Check%20List.pdf 

So, exposing puppies to different things between 8 and 12 weeks of age is important, but even more important is HOW we do it. Socialization is more than showing the human world to a puppy: it’s making sure the pup is having an AWESOME time when seeing new things. As their guardians, it’s important that our pups associate great things with new experiences, so we need to make sure that they aren’t overwhelmed or scared. Becoming familiar with canine body language can help us see if our puppy is showing signs that they aren’t having a great time. (a fantastic resource for this can be found here: http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs)

Does it mean that after this period it’s OK to never take your dog back out into the world? Not at all -- this is just the beginning! Make sure to keep taking your pup on adventures so that all that hard work stays with him!

2. Genetics: Sometimes, puppies can inherit a tendency to be more sensitive to new things. For some puppies, you can see this right off the bat. For some dogs, this doesn’t show up until about 6 months of age (or thereabouts), which is the start of doggie adolescence, and it can catch us by surprise. Like I said at first, our pups' brains are changing, changing, changing as they grow. 

3Epigenetics: Okay -- fancy word here. This is a relatively new area of study that behavior scientists are delving into. Epigenetics refers to things that can have an effect on an individual due to unpleasant/stressful experiences that one, or both, of the parents have been through. (Yay!). So, for example, if mom is under stress when she was pregnant with your future pup (was sick, scared, hungry, etc.), it turns out this can affect the way that her pups’ brains develop -- and this can directly affect the puppy’s behavior later in life. 

So. Wow. So many things, right? Regardless of the reason, in the great majority of cases, a fearful dog can be helped. The important thing is to make sure you get the appropriate help. Talk to your veterinarian about this. From behavior consultants who avoid the use of punishment, fear or intimidation, to veterinarians who specialize in behavior issues, there is help out there for your dog. To make sure you find the right help, see the following article by the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior in choosing a trainer: https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/How-to-Choose-a-Trainer-Position-Statement.pdf

Other resources for getting help here in Central Florida can be found at the Central Florida Force-Free Veterinary Behavior and Trainer Network website: https://www.ForceFreeFlorida.com

9. Why does one of my dogs prefer to lay under the covers but the others don't? 

Lorena: Some like it hot. Others, not so much. Probably just like us. Oh, and scent. Always scent. Our scent is stronger under the covers, and for some dogs this can be a source of comfort.

10. Can dogs be multilingual? 

Lorena: Probably not in the way humans can be. However, they can learn that the sounds that we make mean certain things- cues can be taught in any language, and you can teach your dog that “sit” is the same thing as “sientate”. 

Lorena and her late dog, Chayse.

About the expert 

My name is Lorena Patti, owner of Waggers Dog Works in Southwest Orlando. I’m a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, and a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer. I’m also a Certified Fear Free Professional, and I’ve been doing this for 14 years. We specialize in dogs of all ages -- from welcoming a new puppy to the home of first-time puppy parents to training adolescent and adult dogs -- and in helping those dogs that need more help with behavior modification in order to overcome challenges with fear and aggression.

It should be noted that ALL our training is done without the use of punitive methods to the dog. It’s gentle, safe, supported by veterinary medicine and effective. Canine behavior science has repeatedly shown that this is the case, and that fear, pain or intimidation are not only unnecessary, but harmful, in training or changing a dog’s behavior. I’m a self-professed animal behavior geek, and in addition to helping my clients and their dogs, I spend much of my time on continuing education in order to keep up to date with the advances in this field. The rest of my time I devote to my husband, son and new puppy. Sleep, alas, is optional.

I’ll preface my answers with this very basic fact: Results are what drive every behavior. In other words, behavior doesn’t happen for its own sake: There is a consequence, a result, that will determine if that behavior is repeated. So if a dog does something (anything) and it works for them, well, they’ll keep doing it. The payoff will be worth it.

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