We feel like we understand our dogs most of the time. But every now and then, dogs display some bizarre behaviors most pet parents can't explain. Some of these behaviors are natural and instinctive, and others are just plain hilarious. Sometimes, they can even be gross. Most of the time, everything is normal with your dog, but understanding what causes these behaviors can help put your mind at ease.
1. Running in Their Dreams
Has your dog ever been completely zonked out cold, and then, out of no where, they start running like they're trying to catch the squirrel next door? If they've done this, you have witnessed your dog dreaming. Your pup could be dreaming about what happened that day, behaviors that are instinctive to them like chasing prey, or even playing fetch! This is totally normal, and it can be spit-take hilarious to watch.
2. Zooming Around
When our dogs have the zoomies, they might sprint off like they're running for their life whether it's in circles or straight across the yard. It's like a buildup of excess energy that sends them into overdrive. They usually happen when your dog is extremely happy or excited. You may have just returned home from work or perhaps one of their dog buddies stopped by. Either way, it usually shows they're happy.
3. Spinning Before Lying Down
When dogs spin and circle before lying down, they're displaying a deeply ingrained instinctive behavior that can be traced back to their wild ancestors. In the wild, wolves would spin or circle to tread down grass, leaves, or snow to create a comfortable, safe spot to rest, and to keep their noses into the wind so they can detect strange smells and danger.
Even though our dogs have cozy beds and don't need to worry about lurking predators, they've retained this instinct. It's their way of nest-building and ensuring their sleeping spot is safe and comfortable.
This behavior also serves as a visible signal to other dogs that a particular territory has been claimed.
4. Eating Poop
Dogs eating feces is super disgusting. Even though it's gross, it's a normal behavior. It's still important to get to the bottom of it, because it can pose health risks, especially if they're eating feces containing parasites or other damaging materials. Your dog's poop-eating behavior can come from a nutrient deficiency, but most of the time it happens because of boredome, curiosity, attention seeking, or just habit. Talk to your vet to figure out what's going on.
Providing a balanced diet, regular exercise and mental stimulation, and proper training can help deter this behavior.
5. Trying to Catch Their Own Tails
Watching a dog trying to catch their own tail can be an amusing sight, and it's often viewed as playful behavior. This activity could stem from curiosity, particularly in puppies, as they explore and get familiar with their own bodies.
For some dogs, tail chasing can be a way to entertain themselves or burn off excess energy, similar to we find a way to keep busy when we have nothing to do. It can become obsessive, though, so watch it and try to redirect the behavior if your dog is at it all the time.
6. Rolling in Poop
It's absolutely disgusting when our dog runs to us for love as they're completely covered in poop. To them, it's no big deal. To us, it's time to panic and get them in the tub.
Dogs usually roll in poop to cover themselves in a scent. If you're out hiking, and they dive into horse manure, this is likely what they have in mind. To stop the behavior, keep your dog on-leash, and redirect them with a high-value treat. Just don't get mad and yell at them; they probably won't understand, and you're better off using positive reinforcement to change their behavior.
It can be extremely embarassing when you're out at the park and your dog randomly starts humping another dog. And, if it's a female dog, we're left wondering "what are you doing?" It can be surprising to some that humping isn't always related to sexual activity.
While it generally has something to do with your dog's reproductive instincts, there are multiple other reasons that might lead to this behavior. They could be trying to display dominance, or they might just be excited and stressed out. Dogs sometimes even hump other dogs when they're trying to play. We know it's awkward, but most of the time it's normal. Just get their attention and keep an eye on them, or even keep them on a leash.
8. Sucking on Blankets
It's so weird when we grab our dog's blanket and they have been sucking on it for who knows how long. This is a typical behavior, but it's not exactly ideal. It's comforting for our dogs to suck on blankets, similar to how they latched onto their mom
Most often, dogs who suckle a lot were sepearated from their mom a little too early, or they have other emotional issues around early feeding and anxiety. This is a self-soothing behavior, but it can become a little compulsive. Just watch for it and try to get their attention with an appropriate chew toy. You can also use a DIY chewing deterrent if you need to.
9. Sniffing Butts
Dogs sniffing other dogs' butts might seem strange or even gross to us, but for dogs, it's a normal and natural behavior. They do it because they're gathering info, communicating, and identifying each other.
This is one behavior you really don't need to do much about, unless your dog is at it all the time. Just get their attention and redirect them to something else if you're worried about it. Otherwise, let them have their moment.
My Dog Is Acting Strange
Most of these behaviors are totally normal and natural. But sometimes, your may dog start doing something unusal that indicates there's an underlying health problem going on. These are the ones you have to watch out for, and give your vet a call if you notice your dog doing these things.
10. Head Pressing
Head pressing - where your dog pushes their heads up against a wall or another object for a long time - means something is up. Take it seriously because it could be a sign of a serious problem with your dog's brain health. Conditions that can lead to head pressing include:
- Brain tumors
- Liver disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Infections affecting the nervous system
- Head trauma
- Poisoning from toxins
In addition, look out for abnormal vocalization, pacing, changes in learned behavior, seizures, problems with their vision, or constant circling. If you notice this behavior in your dog, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible. Get it checked out quickly, and your dog's prognosis should be better than if you leave it for later.
Although you can't prevent this behavior completely, keeping toxins away from your dog could reduce the risk of this behavior.
11. Licking Lips
If your dog is constantly licking their lips, it could be because they're oogling over that steak you're cooking on the grill and they're hungry. Or, it could be a sign of a more serious problem that has to do with their health. Your dog might be licking for a few reasons:
- Anxiety: Excessive lip-licking can be a sign your dog is anxious. They might be feeling anxious, so watch for other signs of anxiety to figure out if this is what's going on, and help them calm down.
- Nausea: You know how when you get nauseous, you start to have that ick feeling and it's like saliva keeps oozing out of your mouth? Dogs do too. When it starts, you'll notice them licking their lips quite often.
- Mouth pain: If your dog's teeth are hurting, they might lick their lips more than usual. Other signs that accompany this include bad breath, lack of appetite, and pawing at their face.
- Submission: Some dogs lick their lips to show they're not a threat to you or other dogs.
- Focal seizure: Although this isn't as common as the other reasons, it's still a possibility. Dogs that have focus seizures may bite at the air or lick their lips in response. Consulting with your vet to address this.
12. Sleeping Under the Bed
Your dog crawling under the bed for a heavy slumber can be completely normal if it's something they do regularly. But, if they don't usually do this, it sets off an alarm that something is wrong. Dogs are stoic, which means they'll try to hide signs of pain from you. Keep an eye on them and watch for these symptoms to figure out if something is wrong.
- They're feeling pain: If your dog is showing signs of pain and they're crawling away under your bed, something else may be up.
- They're acting nervous: Does your dog get anxious when people come over, or do they stress out when you aren't around? If they suddenly start hiding under the bed, they might be feeling anxiety.
- They have a health issue: Dogs instinctively hide when they're not feeling well. This is the one you need to watch out for. If your dog is sick and hiding under the bed, it's time to get them to the vet ASAP.
Observe your dog closely for signs of illness if this behavior starts and it's abnormal to your individual dog.
Examining Your Dog's Odd Behaviors
Behaviors like spinning before lying down and rolling in a gross earthworm are instinctive. However, behaviors like head pressing or eating poop should be discussed with your veterinarian. If your dog is acting out of character, this could also prompt concern. You know your dog the best. What's normal for them may not be normal for another dog. Observe your dog's behavior and body language to learn when they're acting off.