12 of the strangest dog behaviors explained

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By Kirstie Renae, INSIDER

  • Dogs often exhibit strange behavior like sniffing other dogs' butts, eating poop, getting the zoomies, and more.
  • INSIDER spoke with Dr. Leanne Jakubowsky, DVM to find out the medical reasoning behind these strange behaviors.
  • Many strange behaviors are evolutionary or instinctual.
  • Most of the weird things dogs do are completely normal, but others can be signs of health conditions.

Any dog owner can confirm that dogs do some very strange things. Amidst the everyday behaviors like cuddling, playing, and giving kisses, our furry friends sometimes do things that we just don't understand.

When your dog suddenly gets the "zoomies" it's because of the best possible reason.

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Every now and then dogs will get a random burst of energy that results in them doing laps around the house or yard. Commonly known as "the zoomies," pet parents often wonder what causes this hilarious activity.

As it turns out, the reason is simple - happiness. Dr. Jakubowsky told INSIDER, "It's a way to release pent-up energy, but only happy, healthy dogs get the zoomies." So, if your pet is doing the zoomies then you are doing everything right.

According to Dr. Jakubowsky, many dogs also get the zoomies after a bath because "it feels so good to move and shake off all that water and anxiety."

Although the zoomies are a completely healthy behavior, Dr. Jakubowsky does warn that pet parents should always be on alert and cautious when their dog is running around. In order to avoid injury to the dog or people around it, she advises to "steer [pets] to safe areas… and take care to protect yourself and your knees as a dog with the zoomies could crash into you."

If your dog is constantly spinning in circles or chasing their tail excessively, it may be time for a vet visit.

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Although it is normal for dogs to occasionally spin out of happiness and excitement, Dr. Jakubowsky warns that "excessive spinning and tail chasing often has a more sinister cause."

She said that frequent or constant spinning can be signs of potential health problems such as "inner ear infections, brain lesions, and even seizures." She advises that if you feel your dog is circling or spinning too much to consult with your veterinarian. A vet should be able to help you determine if the spinning is a genetic trait, a compulsion, or a sign of a more serious health problem.

However, doing circles before lying down is completely normal.

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Prior to taking naps, dogs often walk in circles and scratch at their sleeping spot. Dr. Jakubowsky said this is perfectly fine behavior and that our pets are "just trying to make a comfy spot."

In addition, they are likely showing signs of their species' lineage. According to Dr. Jakubowsky, "There is probably some instinctual basis for this behavior - wolves making a warm, safe spot to bed down for the evening."

If you catch your dog eating grass, it's probably just another instinctual behavior.

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There are a variety of theories on why dogs eat grass. In Dr. Jakubowsky's opinion, "There is probably some ancestral basis. Our dogs' ancestors probably did it as a cathartic - it helped them clear out foreign bodies and parasites due to the high fiber content of grasses."

In addition to using it as a purgative, she said some dogs may just enjoy the taste. However, she urges dog owners to dissuade the behavior, because "it can lead to a mat of grass in their stomach" which can require surgery. It can also cause internal injury since a dog's "sensitive oral mucosa and esophagus can get a grass cut, just as your finger does."

On the rare occasion, she said some dogs may eat grass due to nutritional deficiencies, but this is less likely since modern diets typically are high-quality and contain all of the nutrients our pets need.

What if your dog eats poop? Turns out it's quite normal and there is actually a medical term for it — coprophagy.

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Many dog owners know how alarming it is when we see our pets eating poop. Often we wonder why they do it and how we can stop it.

According to Dr. Jakubowsky, it's fairly common, with "some students citing up to 25% of dogs exhibiting this behavior." She said it can be caused by malabsorption diseases, but the most common reason can be traced back to ancestral survival instincts. When wolves relied on scavenging for food they likely would have eaten fecal matter if it was all that was available.

She also said that when being potty trained some dogs may eat their own poop out of fear of negative repercussions. Dr. Jakubowsky said to avoid this, "Don't spank or be heavy-handed with your dog when he has a house training accident." Doing so can cause your dog to associate their poop with your anger, resulting in them eating it to get rid of the evidence.

Eating poop is also most common in dirty or overcrowded conditions. She advises owners to keep a pet's environment clean to reduce temptation.

Should your dog give you a wink, it's most likely because they have something in their eye.

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As cute as it can be when you catch your dog giving you a wink, Dr. Jakubowsky says it likely is just a sign that they have something in their eye or are experiencing dry eye. Eye drops or flushing their eye with fresh water or saline can help.

She also said a wink could be a dog's way of "breaking their gaze." Staring can be seen as a threatening act to a dog, so by winking your dog is reminding you that they're being friendly.

A dog's way of saying hello — by sniffing butts — may seem silly to us, but it's an evolutionary trait for dogs.

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A simple butt sniff can tell your dog a lot of helpful information about new dogs that can be useful for keeping themselves safe. The closer a dog can get to a source of body chemistry, the better they can sense if new dogs are friends or foes.

"Imagine you have 300 million olfactory receptors in your nose," said Dr. Jakubowsky. "With a quick sniff, they can determine whether their sniff-ee is male or female, happy or sad, scared or stressed."

When dogs roll around in the grass, they're just playing.

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According to Dr. Jakubowsky, "Dog roll in the grass for the same reason children roll on the grass - it's soft, smells good, and is just fun."

She also said that if there is something smelly on the grass such as a dead insect, dead animal, or a high concentration of urine or musk smells, they're likely rolling in it to cover themselves in the smell. Even though we think it smells disgusting, dogs actually love foul odors.

If your dog has a habit of carrying their food from one location to another — don't worry — it's a common behavior.

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Many dogs will carry bits of food and even their entire bowl from one place in the house to another before eating. According to Dr. Jakubowsky, "Your dog is just protecting his valued resource." In the dog's mind, by moving the food from one location to another they are keeping it away from anyone that may steal it.

Dr. Jakubowsky also said that if you smile or laugh when your dog does this behavior, you could be encouraging it, as dogs' behaviors are highly influenced by positive reinforcement.

Humping can be a sign of dominance but, yes, it can also be sexual.

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When your dog humps another animal, a human, or an inanimate object like a pillow or stuffed animal, take solace in the fact that it is completely normal.

Dr. Jakubowsky explained, "Of course, this [behavior] can be sexual, but often [it] is just play or even [a display of] aggression/dominance." She said the behavior is most common in dogs that are poorly socialized and occurs a result of too much excitement or a desire to exert dominance during playtime.

As for when dogs hump objects, Dr. Jakubowsky said that dogs likely do it "just because it feels good." While there is nothing wrong with this behavior, she does warn that it can become a problem with older dogs, since it could lead to back pain and strain. If you feel your pet is humping objects too frequently, schedule a visit with your vet.

When your dog is moving their feet or barking in their sleep, it's probably because they're dreaming.

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According to Dr. Jakubowsky, "Most researches say dogs do dream." So, it is safe to assume that movement and noise made by a pet during sleep is a result of vivid dreaming, similar to how humans can experience sleep talking or walking.

If your dog exhibits these behaviors during a nap, Dr. Jakubowsky said you can look at their eyes and that typically "you will see the rapid eye movements happening behind their closed lids." Indicative of the REM state of sleep, eyes that twitch and move simply mean your pet is in a deep sleep cycle.

Dr. Jakubowsky did say, however, that seizures can occur during sleep. Seizure-like activity during sleep consists of a rigid, stiff body and violent shaking or seizing, and this is, of course, indicative of a greater health problem. Be sure to visit your veterinarian if you think your dog is experiencing seizures during sleep.

It may be adorable when your dog tilts their head, but it actually is helping them collect sounds around them.

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"The outside of the ear flap is called the pinna and the dog can use it much like a radar dish to hear better," said Dr. Jakubowsky. This is why when your dog hears a high pitched or new noise, they tilt their heads back and forth.

But don't think your dog doesn't know that their head tilt is cute. Dr. Jakubowsky confirmed that, yes, sometimes your dog is just milking their cuteness to get something from you, be it approval, attention, affection, or treats.


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