Why Does My Dog Do That?

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Did you ever wonder about some of the habits your dog might have that seem just a bit strange to you? Your modern dog’s odd behaviors are often holdover instincts from necessary activities performed by her wild ancestors. For example:

Butt sniffing is the canine way of saying, “Hi there, friend, how are you?” Because dogs have always had such an all-encompassing sense of smell, they use that sense much like humans use sight – as a way to check out what is going on around them and to recognize situations that might be uncomfortable or dangerous. When your dog meets another dog – whether known or unknown – she sniffs the new dog as a way of grounding herself and feeling more secure.

When your dog circles and circles before lying down, she’s reverting to her ancestral habit of “nesting.” Wild dogs circle around and around to tamp down grass or snow – depending on the season – when they decide its time to make a bed and rest. By lying hidden in tall grass or snowdrifts, the wild dog protects itself from predators that may come calling while it sleeps.

We’ve all watched as our modern, domesticated pups try to bury their food in the kitchen tile or under their bedding. This habit goes back to the practices of the wild pack that would hide or bury any uneaten food in dens or underground to preserve it for later. The preservation of the pack depended on their ability to save and store extra food for the times when hunting became more difficult.

Many animal behaviorists believe that the modern dog’s predisposition to rolling in animal dung dates back to the habits of its wild ancestors. Commonly, the hunter wolves would roll in the droppings of their prey so that the animals they hunted for food would smell themselves, and not the predator hunting them for food.

Many modern dogs will howl in response to high-pitched sounds, but did you know that this behavior dates back to the days of the wolf pack and was used as a means of long-distance communication? Howling in the wild is a means of locating other members of the pack, particularly in bad weather or if the pack is in unfamiliar territory. Often, wild wolves with greet each other with a “good morning” howl when they first wake up. Each wild dog or wolf has its own distinctive howl so that pack members can easily recognize a stranger.

What does your dog get out of licking you? Most dogs learn to lick from their mothers. Female dogs that give birth will lick their puppies to stimulate breathing, to clean them up, and to quicken the release of urine and feces after nursing. It is essential to survival of the puppies. Licking is also a gesture that submissive dogs use in the wild to demonstrate subservience to more dominant pack mates. When your dog licks you, she’s showing that you are her pack leader. Another reason dogs lick humans is to gather information about them using the scent receptors in the mouth and nose to determine if this person is friend or foe.

Knowing why your dog behaves in these instinctive patterns brings you a step closer to understanding how she thinks and how she communicates with you and the world around her.

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