7 Reasons for These Gross Dog Habits - Simply For Dogs
Dog Habits

7 Reasons for These Gross Dog Habits

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One of the most fun parts of living with dogs to me is watching all their strange habits. I’ve talked about habits a few times before on the blog, because I find dog behavior so interesting. Everyone knows that dogs sniff each other’s rear ends as a way to say hello, but do we know why dogs chase their tails, really? Do dogs really understand when they are “in trouble”, and if they don’t, what’s up with the guilty face that many of them display? There are many interesting dog habits, ranging from weird to downright gross, that fascinate me. Canine behaviorists are people who work to understand exactly what is going on in the minds of our furry friends, and here are some of the things they’ve discovered about weird or gross dog habits.

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Facial Expressions Are Likely Responses to Us

The guilty look when a dog has done something wrong is well-documented online. “Dog shaming” photographs, where a dog is wearing a sign explaining what he did wrong, have become a sensation. It’s not one I’m very fond of, but there are some silly and fun examples of owners who keep it lighthearted. Another common facial expression that dog owners love is the “head tilt”, usually accompanied by a look of concentration or perplexed confusion. Many people believe that this expression means their dog is trying hard to understand what’s going on, and even train their dogs to answer in this way when asked certain questions (such as “Who’s a good girl?”)

But what’s really going on behind your dog’s silly expressions? Do they truly understand the situation, and are responding? Most research suggests no. Instead, dogs are reacting to your actions. If you are getting on to your dog for misbehaving, they make the “guilty face” in response to your stress and anger. It is more likely that this face is an expression of fear for upsetting their human. The head tilt is also considered to be a learned behavior that dogs don’t do purposely. Rather, they’ve learned that you enjoy it, and do it to please you.

There’s nothing wrong with that fact, of course. Your dog likes to please you and get reactions from you, and if you enjoy the silly faces they make for this reason, then snap your pictures and enjoy the show. But just keep in mind that your dog probably has no idea why it should feel guilty, and it also likely isn’t trying to answer your complex questions with a tilt of the head.

Many Behaviors Are Primal

Some of the habits that we often see as strange and inexplicable are actually old instincts left over from a dog’s primal ancestors. Check out the book Embracing the Wild in Your Dog by Bryan Bailey for more on that, it’s a fascinating read. Things such as turning in circles or creating a nest when getting ready for bed, and rolling in gross smells outside, are thought to be instincts that are too strong to be bred out, even centuries beyond domestication.

Rolling in dead or smelly things, for example, is thought to be an old instinct for covering up their own scent when hunting, and for alerting the pack to a source of food. Turning in circles to create a cozy nest is something wild dogs would need to do, to move aside rocks and twigs when sleeping outdoors, and even dogs who have never spent a night outside in their lives still feel the need to do this at times.

 

Unless these behaviors cause problems for your daily life, they are typically best ignored. Your dog isn’t likely to be trained out of a habit that has been ingrained in its DNA since the dawn of time, and besides wishing they smelled a little better, these aren’t habits that should really cause any issues.

But What About the Truly Gross Habits?

Some things are just a little weird and cute. But what about the really gross habits? If you’ve ever had a dog that liked to eat its own poop or vomit, you know exactly what I mean. These behaviors are baffling, and there are many reasons that veterinarians and behaviorists contribute them to.

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First and foremost, dogs often eat their poop or vomit because it’s seen as a food source. To a dog, regurgitated food still smells like food. Fecal matter may be a little different, but a hungry dog isn’t going to be picky. So if you notice your dog exhibiting this behavior often, consider feeding them a bit more.

Another reason for this type of behavior relates to the way that mother dogs care for puppies. First, mother dogs frequently feed puppies partially digested food in order to wean them off milk. In fact, this is a voluntary thing that dogs do on purpose, and about 60% of all breeds do this for their pups. So a dog that eats its own vomit may simply be recalling that partially digested food is a food they ate as a puppy.

Mother dogs also have an instinct to keep their puppies clean, and it’s very common to see mother dogs eating puppy’s poop as they clean them. Poop eating in a female dog could simply be this mothering instinct being displayed.

Dog Habits

There are a few medical reasons for eating fecal matter that may need to be considered if your dog does this regularly without any reason. Those include:

  • Nutrient deficiency, especially an enzyme deficiency. Digestive enzymes make it possible for dogs to properly digest food, and without those, fecal matter is still full of undigested food. This can make the poop smell more like food to a dog.
  • Some dogs may crave poop when certain parasites are present in the digestive system. These parasites steal nutrients, making a dog feel that it needs to get every possible bit of nutrients out of food.
  • Diseases such as diabetes and thyroid issues. These conditions can make dogs feel hungrier, and therefore they may eat anything they can. If your dog is taking steroids, they may also feel hungrier.

Certain behavioral issues can cause dogs to eat vomit or poop as well. These may include:

  • Attention seeking. If a dog knows that you will get on to them for eating poop or vomit, they may do it just to get your attention. Even bad attention is attention to a dog.
  • Puppies may simply not know any better. Additionally, if the puppy came from a puppy mill where it was underfed or crated for long periods of time, it may exhibit these behaviors.
  • Some dogs just get bored, and are honestly just entertaining themselves with eating poop. That’s not a fun thought, but it is something that you can easily fix. Be sure that your dog has plenty of stimulation and mental challenges throughout the day to keep them busy.
  • Learned behavior. If you have an older dog that eats fecal matter or vomit, and you get a new puppy, chances are the puppy will learn the behavior. Anything an older and more alpha dog does, a puppy will want to do as well.

These behaviors are gross, unclean, and sometimes harmful for a dog. If you’d like to keep your dog from eating poop or vomit, there are a few things you can do:

  • First, be sure that your dog’s home is clean. If a dog has an accident it its sleeping area, it may eat the fecal matter in order to keep it’s bed clean. Stay on top of messes so that this behavior is avoided.
  • Keep your dog active and engaged. Interactive toys that dispense treats, like the Furry Fido or a treat ball, are great ways to stop your dog from getting bored enough to start eyeballing new snacks.
  • Be sure your dog is eating enough, and that their diet is healthy. If they aren’t getting enough nutrients, you may need to change foods, or add a supplement to their diet. Talk to your vet about this first, as it’s better for a dog to get what they need from food.

 

  • Check your dog for parasites regularly.
  • Try to use positive reinforcement rather than punishment when you see your dog engaging in these behaviors. Studies have shown that punishing a dog for eating their poop or vomit can actually cause anxious behaviors that continue the cycle.

For the most part, as long as your dog is otherwise healthy, this gross habit isn’t actually doing them any harm. If you can get past feeling squeamish over this somewhat natural behavior, then your best bet may just be to live and let live.

Wild and Weird Behaviors

Let’s take a step away from the gross and get back to weird. What’s the deal with tail chasing? It looks like something your pup may simply do for fun, or out of boredom – and for some dogs, that is the case. However, many behaviorists think this activity could be a sign that something is wrong in some cases. Occasional tail chasing is one thing, but if your dog exhibits this behavior so often that it gets in the way of real life – say, they must do this behavior multiple times before walk time, often forcing you to repeat their name many times to get going – then it could be a sign of OCD or extreme anxiety.

Have you ever heard your dog do something that sounds like a “reverse sneeze”? The deep, guttural snorting noise that almost sounds like your dog could be going into an allergic fit is actually a common occurrence that is no more harmful for a dog than standard sneezing. The reason dogs do the sucking instead of expelling air is that they are attempting to remove irritants from the body – so, just like regular sneezing. This could be because your dog has allergies, because their leash is too tight, or because they are very excited. There’s typically nothing to worry about with this noise.

Sniffing each other’s behinds may seem weird to us humans, but to a dog, this is the equivalent of a very friendly and genuine handshake. In fact, if dogs don’t sniff each other’s behinds when they first meet, it’s pretty likely that they aren’t each other’s biggest fans. The reason for choosing the behind specifically has to do with a dog’s sense of smell, as well as an anal gland that secrets specific chemicals on the rear end. These chemicals can tell a dog’s sense of smell all sorts of things about the owner of the behind in question – such as the dog’s age, how healthy it is, and even how it’s feeling at that particular moment.

These are just a few of the common “weird habits” that dogs exhibit. Don’t forget that dogs are individuals, just like people. It is typical for a dog to have its own unique personality, and that includes its own unique habits. Something your dog does that is gross or weird may simply be their strange personality on display!

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Loving These Weird and Gross Creatures

The most important thing for any dog is that it is healthy, entertained, and happy. If a dog isn’t healthy, these habits could be a cry for help. If a dog is bored, these habits could be an attempt to keep itself busy. If a dog isn’t happy, they could be seeking your attention. Beyond all of that, these habits are likely just quirks of genetics and personality, and aren’t really worth getting worked up over. As for me, I enjoy watching Leroy and Janice live out their lives with strange little habits that I’ll likely never understand. Maybe I’m not learning anything from their desire to eat regurgitated food, but it does teach me something about enjoying life to watch them chase their tails or curl up into the coziest bed they can make. And as weird or gross as the habits may be, I think that’s beautiful.

Related Content:

Get with the Program and Correct Your Dog’s Bad Habits! (Video)
House Training an Older Dog​​​
5 Reasons Why You Need to Train Your Dog, and 7 Training Problems to Overcome​​
The Team Approach to Training Your Dog (Video)​​
How to Use a Behavior Chain to Train Your Dog (It’s Not What You Think!)​​

Sources:

https://iheartdogs.com/8-really-weird-dog-behaviors-explained/

http://mentalfloss.com/article/78946/why-do-dogs-sniff-each-others-butts

http://www.puppyleaks.com/eat-vomit/

 

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