Why Do Dogs Do What They Do

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Have you ever wondered why dogs do what they do? For example, why do they always bound to the door to greet their owners? Or, when you’re sitting on the couch, they want to snuggle up next to you? My dog Sadie always has to have at least one paw touching me when we sit together.

Dogs seem to love their people unconditionally. Plus, they don’t seem to mind our weird quirks. However, for as lovable as they are, dogs also do some odd things.

We’ve all known dogs guilty of licking their owner’s faces obsessively or running around in circles after getting a bath. Then there are the less savory actions, like rolling around in garbage or eating rabbit poop in the backyard. And why do dogs spend so much time sniffing each other’s butts?

Unlike human friends, owners can’t come out and ask their dogs why they do the puzzling things they do. Plus, it would be rude to ask our human friends why they want to sniff someone’s butt. But I digress.

Even if dogs could answer, they might not know. When dogs lick people, are dogs trying to show their owners affection? Or, do they like how their humans taste?

For example, both my older daughter and my husband have the same thyroid condition. Our dogs consider them to be delicious. They lick them with a fervor that I never get.

Photo credit: Canva.

Why do dogs lick people and answers to other canine questions

Stacker put together answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about canine companions. The notion here was to answer some of these pressing dog-related questions but also to separate fact from fiction.

Where did Stacker get their answers? Veterinarians, dog trainers or other canine experts. Some answers may seem obvious, while others might surprise you. Read on to gain a greater understanding of man’s best friend.

Why do dogs wag their tails?

Dogs wag their tails in part to show excitement, but it goes much further than that. A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about what a dog is feeling. If you watch how your dog’s tail wags, you can guess their mood.

For example, when my dog Oscar wags his tail like a whirlygig, I know he’s super excited. However, when my dog Sadie is super excited, her tail wags low and side to side, not in a circle.

A 2007 study referenced in Live Science suggested this: tail-wagging to the right may indicate positive emotions (as dogs access the brain’s left hemisphere). On the other hand, leftward-wagging tails hint at negative emotions (accessing the right hemisphere).

Then there are other tail positions:

  • neutral tail suggest a relaxed disposition
  • low tails suggest submissiveness
  • high tails indicate arousal or aggression

How did Fido become the generic dog name?

The name Fido comes from the Latin word “fidelitas” meaning faithful—an apt description for many pooches. However, we can trace Fido back to two famous dogs.

One, Abraham Lincoln’s dog, Fido, was the first presidential dog to ever appear in a photograph.

Two, an Italian dog named Fido became famous during World War II for his outstanding fidelity. That is, after his owner died in a factory bombing at work, Fido went to the bus stop every day for 13 years waiting for him to return.

Oh, Fido, you good boy. The town thought he was a good boy, too. Eventually, they erected a statue in his honor.

Are dogs actually smiling?

According to certified dog trainer Victoria Schade, dogs aren’t actually smiling in the human sense of the word when they turn their mouths upward. However, dogs do have their ways of communicating happiness.

“The canine equivalent of a smile is a bouncy body, a loose tail wag, and a facial expression with soft eyes and a relaxed mouth and ears,” Schade told PetMD.

Why do dogs hate fireworks?

The Fourth of July makes many dogs tremble. A 2013 study from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Oslo, Norway, found that nearly half of all dogs indicating fear when confronted with loud noises such as fireworks, thunder or gunshots.

Some vets believe dogs learn their fear of fireworks. Perhaps they once lived in an overly quiet environment. Then, they had a traumatic noise-related event. Others believe it is a genetic predisposition that can be particular to some breeds.

Photo credit: Canva.

Here’s what I know. My dog Sadie couldn’t care less when fireworks go off or when it thunders. On the other hand, my dog Oscar is always a whining, shaking bowl of jelly.

Our first dog Buffy never minded fireworks or thunder. Then one night, when he was nine or 10, we let him out during a storm. Just as he was stepping into the backyard, there was a big boom of thunder. From that point forward, until he died at age 15, he found fireworks and thunder terrifying.

Why is chocolate bad for pups?

Chocolate contains an alkaloid called theobromine. It’s a chemical compound humans can metabolize quickly. However it takes dogs a long time to digest. During this time, it’s possible for toxic quantities to build up in their bodies.

The smaller the dog, the more susceptible they are to potential poisoning. The larger the quantity and the darker the chocolate, the higher the theobromine content. It is indeed possible for dogs to die of theobromine poisoning. However, more commonly they get extremely sick. To remedy the situation, a vet must induce vomiting.

Bottom line: if you suspect your dog ate chocolate, call your vet ASAP. That’s what we did one afternoon when our dog Oscar came downstairs with a chocolate Power Bar in his mouth.

Turns out he’d dug into my husband’s work bag. That’s where he kept Power Bars in case he got hungry at work. Oscar had already eaten one bar and was working on the second.

We were at the vet in under 10 minutes where they induced vomiting. While Oscar wasn’t happy about the puking, afterwards he was fine. And my husband stopped taking Power Bars to work in his bag and left them in his desk instead.

What purpose do whiskers serve?

Dog whiskers are tiny receptors full of nerve endings at the base of the follicles. They send sensory messages to their brains. These receptors help dogs perceive changes in air currents, pick up ground vibrations, and collect useful information about the size and speed of animals approaching or inanimate objects nearby.

Certain breeds also use their whiskers to evaluate space. They can do this to determine if they can fit in certain places or access certain locations. It’s probably why you never hear about dogs bumping into things in the dark.

Why does my dog follow me to the bathroom?

Dogs are pack animals. This doesn’t change when owners are using the bathroom. The instinct to follow owners everywhere arises most likely from their sense of protectiveness. Dogs want to keep their owners in sight at all times, even when they go to the bathroom.

It also may be a behavior that’s you’re unknowingly positively reinforcing, says New York veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack. “If every time you are with your dog, he gets affection or treats, he’s likely to [follow you around] more often,” Barrack told Family Handyman.

Do they dream?

When dogs are asleep, the electrical activity in their brains show patterns similar to those observed in humans during dreaming states. What’s more, there is evidence to suggest that rats dream. Canine psychologist Stanley Coren says this means dogs probably do, too.

“Since a dog’s brain is more complex and shows the same electrical sequences, it is reasonable to assume that dogs are dreaming, as well,” he said. Coren wrote the book “Do Dogs Dream?” He said people could observe dogs dreaming about 20 minutes after dogs fall asleep. That’swhen a dog’s breathing gets shallow, and their muscles start twitching.

I know I’ve seen my dogs Oscar and Sadie dreaming. It always looks like they’re running in their sleep, the way their paws move.

Why do dogs love peanut butter?

Dogs may love peanut butter as much as we do for a simple reason–it’s delicious.

“Dogs (and people) are hardwired to seek out certain chemicals that signal a nutrient-rich food,” Dr. Susan Wynn, a veterinarian at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, explained to The Dodo. “Fat and protein are the primary drivers.”

Other factors include the fun nature of peanut butter. It’s sticky and can become a game, especially when added to a KONG. Plus, it’s a “human food” they get to partake in—something that makes it extra special.

We find the the KONGs with the larger openings are the best ones for stuffing with peanut butter.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

What makes pups shed?

Dogs have fur mainly to help control their body temperature, which is why shedding tends to occur seasonally. Although dogs will slough hair throughout the year just like humans, the greatest volume happens in the spring and fall.

Photo credit: Canva.

Spring shedding is the time when dogs abandon their thick winter coat in favor of a thinner summer version. Conversely, fall shedding is the time when they’re getting rid of their summer coat to grow thicker, warmer fur for winter. This is why the American Eskimo Dog sheds so much.

Another function of fur is to protect their skin from the sun. That’s why they never lose all of it.

Why do dogs love rolling around in gross things?

Dogs have a bizarre tendency to roll around in disgusting things. This could be a smelly fish that’s washed up on a dog-friendly beach or a pile of rotting garbage. Nonetheless, they seem to love doing it.

Dog experts believe this is an instinct left over from their ancestral days. That was a time when they used to mask their scents during hunts to better sneak up on their prey.

Today’s wolves still employ this strategy, using animal carcasses or herbivore droppings to hide their smells.

What makes canines dig?

Dogs dig in the dirt for many reasons. According to Mary Jo Dilonardo, of Mother Nature Network, there are likely five common causes. Here they are.

One, boredom.

Two, they may be trying to dig under a fence to escape.

Three, they may be seeking comfort, using the cooler soil to regulate their body temperature or dirt to feel protected.

Four, could they be trying to bury a bone or toy? This is a hereditary behavior from their wild dog ancestors.

And, finally, they’re hunting. They could have the scent of nearby moles, chipmunks or other scurrying creatures.

Why do dogs mark their territory?

Marking their territory is a primitive instinct that dogs do for the simple reason the name suggests—they’re letting other dogs know what’s theirs. Scent marking is common among many animals, including monkeys, tigers, wildebeests, wombats and wolves.

It’s generally intended just for other animals of their same species. Dogs use it as a signal that they’ve been there and to convey messages such as rank or reproductive status.

Are they naturally nocturnal?

Wolves are nocturnal creatures that are most active at dusk (leading some to label them “crepuscular”)—and feral dogs tend to follow the same pattern. However, domesticated dogs usually adapt to their owners’ sleeping habits. They’ve abandoned their ancestors’ tendencies in favor of sleeping at night alongside their humans.

In some instances, your dogs may be like mine. They’ll signal to me that it’s time to go to bed. That’s usually if I’m staying up too late bingeing TV series.

Can dogs feel guilt?

Despite the abundance of “dog-shaming memes” and the prevalence of the “guilty dog” face in pop culture, there’s little evidence to suggest that dogs can feel guilt. Instead, it is more likely that if a dog expresses a timid face after doing something wrong, they are reacting to perceived anger from their owner.

“There have been a number of studies, and it’s pretty clear that dogs don’t feel or display guilt,” Dr. Susan Hazel told The Telegraph. “It’s not the way their brains work.”

What does it mean when they eat grass?

When dogs eat anything that is not food, it can be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, according to PetMD. However, it’s often also a sign of pure boredom or odd tastes and not behavior most veterinarians consider concerning.

Dog experts have postulated they do it to induce vomiting, improve digestion or treat stomach worms—essentially self-medicating. However, others refute this, and the theory doesn’t have evidence to support it.

Are dogs really dumber than cats?

There is a widespread notion that dogs are dumb while cats are smart; however, science doesn’t back the idea up. On the contrary, a 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy found that dogs have twice as many neurons in their cerebral cortices as cats. This suggests that they are, in fact, twice as intelligent.

“Neurons are the basic information processing units,” said one of the study’s authors, neurologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel. “The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is,” Herculano-Houzel told National Geographic.

Why do dogs sniff each other’s butts?

Butt sniffing is a common greeting for dogs when they first meet each other. Think of it as the doggie version of the human hand shake.

It may look odd, but they are smelling tiny glands that convey information about their age, sex, diet, mood and other personal stats. Dogs have a unique patch in their nasal chambers called Jacobson’s organ. This organ helps them to hyperfocus on the scents they’re seeking, essentially filtering out the poop smell.

Are they colorblind?

There is a common myth that dogs can only see black, white, and shades of gray. This is only partially true. There is some evidence that suggests dogs have partial color blindness.

Jay Neitz, a researcher with the University of Washington’s Department of Ophthalmology, believes that dogs have dichromatic vision. That means they perceive colors similar to humans with red-green colorblindness.

So, they can see yellow and blue variations. However, colors on the red and green spectrums end up gray or brown to them.

Wondering why dogs sploot? I’ve got the answer.

Can pets watch TV?

Photo credit: Canva.

Although it seems crazy to think of dogs “watching TV,” they can, in fact, perceive the images in a similar manner to how people do and, depending on their personalities, show interest or not.

Dogs are especially good at identifying animals on screen, particularly other dogs, and responding to barks or other noises, according to a 2013 study by researchers in France. However, their eyes register images faster so the images may appear to be flickering.

Why do dogs lick people?

When puppies are born, their moms lick them to keep them clean and well-groomed. Most people believe licking is how dogs show affection.

They are also curious creatures and may simply like the taste of a person’s skin, which goes back to my anecdote of my dog’s preference for licking my husband and older daughter.

Is one dog year equal to seven human years?

One of the most popular dog myths is that one year in a dog’s life is equivalent to seven human years. However, there is no logic behind this notion.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Carl Bialik pointed out: “If a human year really were equivalent to seven dog years, then people would reach reproductive age by 7, and some would live past 150.” Not only that, the rule doesn’t take into account the considerable mortality variations among sizes and breeds.

Nonetheless, this misconception makes for some great gift ideas for dog lovers, such as this sign we have in our house: “In dog years, I’ve had only one beer.”

Photo credit: Leah Ingram

You can find lots of variations on Etsy.

Are they born knowing how to swim?

Although water-loving breeds such as labrador retrievers perpetuate the idea that all dogs are innate swimmers, this isn’t the case at all. According to Animal Planet, most breeds are one of three types: natural swimmers, potential swimmers and non-swimmers.

Although personality plays a role, too, these tendencies are strongly associated with certain breeds. Natural swimmers, for example, include breeds like golden retrievers and Newfoundlands while breeds like bulldogs or dachshunds are generally not big swimmers.

Others are in the middle and don’t take to water naturally but can learn with moderate training and practice.

Then you have dogs like my Oscar. His fur is a water repellant and he has webbed feet. Clearly, he’s a water dog. However, he hates the water. I guess he never got the memo.

Can dogs be depressed?

Dogs can definitely display signs of sadness or disinterest in activities. However, experts are divided on how this compares to clinical depression in humans.

PetMD explains that symptoms of depression can often be attributed to a medical condition (an arthritic dog, for example, who doesn’t want to take walks due to pain or a dog with kidney disease who doesn’t want to eat due to nausea).

That said, other times, dogs show clear signs of depression linked to specific events like marriage, divorce, new babies, deaths, or other changes.

Why do dogs have tails?

Tails serve a variety of purposes people might not think about. First, they help with movement like turning (acting as a counterweight), balancing (providing a counterbalance), and swimming (working as a rudder for stability).

They also function as a communication tool, both with humans and other animals, and help spread their scent around.

Why do dogs do different things with their ears?

Usually, when dogs flap their ears, it’s because they are trying to hear something better. It varies among breeds but generally speaking, ears that are relaxed back mean they’re happy while ears flattened back indicate fear.

Ears pointed up are on alert, and sometimes they cock their head to the side, too. People will notice that when dogs do this, they are typically turning in the direction of the noise.

Finally, if you have a dog with long ears, shaking their ears could be a sign of an ear infection. Our dog Buffy was a cocker spaniel mix. As you know cockers have longer ears. Every August he seemed to get ear infections, and we would know when he started shaking his head and ears.

Why do dogs pant?

With the exception of small amounts from their noses and paws, dogs don’t sweat. Instead, they use panting to lower their body temperature and funnel more oxygen into their bloodstream.

This allows them to blow hot air out and suck cooler air in, though it’s not very efficient. Dogs also sometimes pant when they are excited, stressed, or eager to play.

Why do dogs eat poop?

Although it’s abhorrent to humans, there are many dogs who love to eat poop. My dogs are especially fond of deer poop. Why, just why?

There are multiple reasons they do it. One of them is simply liking the taste.

Another goes back to puppyhood when they may have seen their mom doing it, mainly if they were in a cage with other siblings. Mama dogs often eat their puppies’ stools to keep the space clean or prevent the odor from drawing predators.

Other reasons include boredom, stress, hunger or the desire for attention.

Why do dogs have wet noses?

Photo credit: Canva.

The main culprit for wet noses is a thin layer of mucus that dogs secrete to enhance their sense of smell (which it does by trapping small scent particles in the sticky moisture). On top of that, they tend to lick their noses a lot, which adds saliva to the mix.

Finally, they have sweat glands in their noses—the only place besides their paws—which produce moisture to help cool them down. This three-part combination is what leads to the perpetually wet state that most canine noses are in.

Can dogs cry?

Dogs have tear ducts; however, they are meant for clearing debris and shouldn’t leak or drip onto their face.

If owners notice their dogs appearing to “cry,” it’s likely the result of an eye infection, allergies, or injury, and they should take their dog to a vet.

Dogs do not shed tears due to emotions—humans are the only species that do this.

Why do dogs love walks so much?

It may be hard for humans to understand how a simple walk around the block could bring so much joy, but for dogs, it’s the epitome of happiness. There are three main reasons they go so crazy when their owners reach for the leash, according to animal behaviorist and dog trainer Karen London.

One, they want to exercise—some breeds need a lot of physical activity (these are the ones who pull their owners down the street at breakneck speeds).

Two, they want to sniff everything (these are the dogs who have their snouts buried in the ground the whole time).

And three, they want to be social (these are the dogs who spend their whole walk interacting with other dogs).

Can dogs be bilingual?

The answer to this question depends on how one defines “bilingual.” In reality, dogs do not speak any language—they simply associate certain sounds with behavior they’ve been rewarded for.

According to SlimDoggy’s “Dear Labby” advice column, dogs could be taught multiple words for the same command, but it would be confusing for them.

The best way to make it simpler if owners wanted their dogs to respond to two languages, would be to combine verbal commands with hand signals.

Why do dogs have bad breath?

Most of the time a dog’s bad breath is simply caused by the type of food they’re eating or something foul they’ve ingested. See the earlier question about why dogs eat poop.

However, according to Elizabeth Xu of PetMD, there are more concerning things that bad breath can be a sign of, too, such as gum disease, kidney disease, oral tumors, diabetes or toxic substances they’ve ingested. If a dog’s breath changes or becomes particularly odorous, see a vet to make sure it’s nothing serious.

Finally, it could simply be that you need to start brushing your dog’s teeth. Also, you can bring them to the vet for a complete tooth cleaning. However, this usually involves putting the dog under so it’s not cheap.

Can dogs smell fear?

Although it sounds like an old wives’ tale, there is evidence to suggest that dogs can indeed smell fear. This is because humans emit pheromones when they’re afraid. Dogs can detect this due to their exceptional sense of smell.

Dogs can also pick up on things like sweating or changes in breathing patterns. It’s one of the reasons that people with certain health conditions get a service dog. That dog is trained to smell when an attack is coming and can help the owner.

However, there is no evidence that a dog’s any more likely to attack a person if it thinks that the person is afraid. Instead, it will assess its own fear and the threat the person potentially represents.

Why do they go crazy after a bath?

Dog experts can’t say for sure why dogs have a tendency to go so crazy after a bath, but a common theory is that they’re experiencing sheer relief. For many dogs, bathtime is a source of anxiety. So, running around afterward may be a way to release nervous energy.

It’s also likely they want to dry off and rolling on the ground is a great way to do that. The most likely reason, however, is that they’re trying to get the smell off.

With their heightened olfactory system, most dogs find soaps and shampoos intense. As Hannah Gilman of The Dog People put it: “Wanting to smell like poop and dirt and grass is in their DNA.”

Why do dogs lick wounds?

According to the American Kennel Club, dog saliva contains antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. They’re supposed to help wounds heal faster, though it’s a very small amount.

Still, the instinct probably originated from this, along with the desire to keep the wound clean. That said, licking wounds can harm more than it helps, so it’s best to discourage dogs from doing this.

That’s why when my dog Sadie came home from having knee surgery, we had to put her in the cone of shame. They didn’t want her licking the incision.

The plastic one from the animal hospital was uncomfortable. So we bought a soft-sided dog cone collar on Amazon. I think it looks like a travel pillow. Technically, these are called an Elizabethan collar.

Now when it comes to wounds on us, we call Sadie a vampire. She’ll lick and lick and lick them.

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