If you’ve ever owned a dog, you know how quirky they can be. Some dogs eat poop, others chase their tails, and some greet guests with invasive crotch sniffing. Many pet parents end up thinking that their dog is just weird or eccentric, but in reality most strange dog behaviors can be easily explained. Here we’ll look at some kooky canine habits and their causes.
1. Eating Poop
Eating poop -- or coprophagia -- is actually a very common behavior, especially in puppies. Your dog may chow down on their own feces in the yard, or try to consume other animal’s poop while out on a walk. It sounds gross, but for many dogs it’s a natural instinct.
- Causes: While it is not completely clear what causes puppies to begin eating poop, many animal behaviorists believe that it may be explained by simple curiosity. It may also be a mimicking behavior that pups learn in the nest after seeing their mother stimulate pup defecation by licking their behinds, and in the process, ingesting feces. In other cases, coprophagia may be a sign that your dog is suffering from a nutrient deficiency as a result of an unbalanced diet or a medical condition that is affecting nutrient absorption. Eating poop may be an attempt to ingest those missing nutrients.
2. Tail Chasing
Have you ever watched your dog circle around and around and around trying to catch their tail? This behavior has become something of a dog cliche, but don’t write it off just because of that. While tail chasing can sometimes be innocent, other times it may signal an underlying condition.
- Causes: Tail chasing is not uncommon in puppies, and in most cases it is simply a playful game. Older dogs who do not grow out of the behavior may chase their tails as a way to get attention (even a reprimanding will do), release excess energy, or displace anxiety. A medical problem -- such as an injury, skin irritation (allergy or flea bite), or neurological condition (like epilepsy) -- can also cause a dog to chase their tail.
3. Crotch Sniffing
It can be mortifying to see your dog greet your guests with a nose to the crotch, but understanding the cause of the behavior will help you to realize that your dog doesn’t mean to be rude.
- Causes: Have you ever seen two dogs meet for the first time? If so, you know that their version of shaking hands is sniffing each other’s genital areas and rear ends. This is because those areas contain scent glands that provide information about the dog, including gender and health. Humans also have scent glands that offer clues about who they are, so a dog sniffing around down there is simply trying to get to know the person. While this behavior isn’t harmful, it can be annoying, and the best way to train your dog to stop doing it is by rewarding them for sitting still when a guest arrives rather than going in for a whiff.
4. Butt Scooting
Your precious pup probably doesn’t look so precious while dragging their butt across the carpet, grass, or ground. This behavior is somewhat common in dogs, but it shouldn’t be ignored -- it’s usually a sign of irritation.
- Causes: Dogs don’t scoot their butts because it’s fun. There is almost always an underlying medical condition, the most common being a problem with the anal sac. The anal sac serves an important function -- it houses the smelly substance that dogs use to communicate with one another. In some cases, the anal sac may become inflamed, blocked, or abscessed, and a dog will scoot to try to relieve the discomfort. Other medical conditions that can cause irritation and scooting include tapeworms, feces matted around the rear end, a rectal prolapse, tumor, or injury. Take your dog to the vet if you see this behavior.
5. Funny Fears
Does the sight of the vacuum cleaner send a shiver down your dog’s spine? Do they cower from cars, detest the dishwasher, or tremble before a slippy floor? You might say to your dog “hey, snap out of it, it’s just a ____!” But for many dogs, ordinary objects can cause quite a fright.
- Causes: Fear can be a complex thing. Some dogs develop fears after a bad experience (perhaps they once fell on a slippery floor), while other develop fears due to lack of exposure (a dog who has never seen a vacuum may be scared by its loud sounds and strange movements). Fears can also be made worse by a dog’s owner. If a dog is afraid whenever the dishwasher starts and the owner either reprimands the dog or overly consoles them, the fear can be reinforced. Early socialization and exposure can help a dog to develop a confident personality and fewer fears. A fearful dog can often be successfully treated with behavior modification exercises.
More on Dog Behavior
How to Stop Dog Aggression
Aging and Old Dog Behaviors
OCD in Dogs
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.