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Baffling Behaviors

Why do your pets do the Funny Things they do?* 

Here are some answers.

You and your pet speak different languages, but most of the time you understand each other pretty well.  Even so, there are probably instances when your pet's behavior makes you scratch your head. "Though we tend to view and treat our dogs and cats as members of our human family, pets retain many behavioral propensities inherited from their animal ancestors, says Katherine Miller, an animal behavorist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What may appear unusual is perfectly natural from your pet's perspective."  

Here are some of the most common of these seemingly odd activities and the reasons behind them.

Why does my Dog...

...chase toys I throw but not bring them back to me?

Brittany pup with toyFetching is a learned behavior. Most dogs must be trained to retrieve. But a toy's color may also play a part. Dogs are essentially red-green color blind, so finding and retrieving a red ball in green grass, for example, is a challenge. Use a blue toy when playing fetch so it stands out clearly.


...cringe from a loud noise?

A dog's hearing is much more sensitive than ours, but a genetic tendency toward nervousness may cause some pets to react strongly to noises. In addition, we used to depend on dogs to warn us against danger, so they've been bred to respond to unfamiliar noises, sights, and people. A dog is also more likely to react adversely to noises... where it's the rustle of a plastic bag or the roar of a vacuum cleaner... if it hasn't been exposed to them before 12 weeks of age.  This is one of the reasons puppies and kittens benefit from experiencing all aspects of everyday life. To calm you dog when a noise is bothering it, offer a treat or a meal, or provide distraction with playtime.

...circle and paw its blanket or pillow before lying down?

This is a residual behavior from canines that flatten or fluff vegetation or the earth to make their beds in the wild.  Some dogs try to dig a little... even on a tile floor.

...burrow under the blankets at the foot of my bed? Is it safe?

Dogs like sleeping in a cozy "den," which makes them feel secure, says Katenna Jones, an animal behavorist with the American Humane Association. As long as they have a clear, unobstructed way out and are not rolled up inside the blankets, they'll emerge on their own if they need more air. That said, it's a good idea to untuck the sheets and blankets at the bottom of the bed for easy exit.


...stare at babies the way it does squirrels or birds?

To a dog, they all look, smell, and sound like strange animals. In fact, dogs don't recognize babies as human until babies develop controlled motor skills. To be safe, never leave a baby unattended with any dog.

...eat my hair (as a puppy)?

Puppies explore the world through their mouths and will play with anything. "Dangling hair can be very enticing to investigate, and when puppies realize that tugging on it causes you to tug back, it can seem like a fun toy," Miller says. Also, our hair's natural oils and even the products we use may smell delicious. Try to discourage this habit by realizing you dog is asking to play and substituting a tug rope or a chew toy.

...obsessively lick his paws?

Believe it or not, your dog may have allergies. An allergic reaction to pollen or even a certain food can result in itchy feet… kind of like hay fever for dogs. This condition is usually treated with antihistamines (like Benadryl) or corticosteroids (like cortisone or prednisone), and sometimes a vet may prescribe an antibiotic or an anti-yeast medication as well.

A weekly bath with an all-natural or medicated shampoo can help sooth itchy skin and remove allergens from your dog’s coat (bonus: your senses will be less offended when you wake up with him sharing your pillow). Also, some natural remedies, like fish oil, antioxidants, or Chinese herbs, may help with symptoms (speak to your veterinarian before offering anything unusual to your dog).

To find out if your dog has allergies, schedule an appointment with a veterinary dermatologist through the American College of Veterinary Dermatology.

...nose for dinner?

When dogs anticipate mealtime, they may nudge their bowl, especially if this has prompted you to fill it with food in the past. They likely learned that this behavior makes dinner come more quickly.

AKC GoodDog!SM Helpline is a live telephone service designed to help dog owners like get in tune with their pet's behavior. For a one time fee, the service covers training for the lifetime of your dog! Get the coaching you need from the AKC knowledgeable trainers and turn your pooch into a polite pup. 


"All of us could take a lesson from the weather...
it pays no attention to criticism."