Chasing tails, stealing socks, and reverse sneezing?
Dogs are weird.
For all their loyalty and love, dogs are full of inexplicable behaviors that are as entertaining as they are baffling.
We’ve rounded up the absolute strangest doggie quirks, and found a totally plausible explanation for each one.
#1 Eating Poo
There’s actually a fancy-sounding name for this behavior: Coprophagia. Doesn’t really capture the grossness of poo-eating, but there ya go.
In the wild, mama dogs eat their puppies’ poo to clean the den and hide the scent from predators. Even though they have humans to clean up after them now, and the threat of predators doesn’t really exist in your living room, this is just an instinct they never evolved out of.
Some other reasons — malnutrition, overcrowded kennels — probably aren’t an issue for your family dog, but another one — the delicious, exotic taste of cat poo — is irresistible to a dog. Cat food contains more flavor and meat than dog food, so their feces do too! Most of the poo your pup snacks on outside probably comes from neighborhood kitties.
#2 The Reverse Sneeze
A snort, a gag, some hacking / honking, and then… that’s it. It’s like your dog has a hairball, or maybe she’s choking, only dogs don’t get hairballs, and she’s clearly not choking, so what the heck is going on here?
Paroxysmal respiration (another fancy name!) can be caused by an irritant in the air, eating or drinking too fast, or even a nasal infection. The resultant irritation of the palate or throat causes a spasm, resulting in quick inhalations of air into the dog’s nose. Similar to a human sneeze, only humans are better equipped to just… achoo!, whereas dogs seem to have some problems here. :)
The reverse sneeze is definitely weird, and sometimes alarming, but it’s usually harmless. If your dog suffers from paroxysmal respiration often, she may suffer from food or environmental allergies. A vet visit never hurts.
#3 Running in Circles / Chasing His Tail
Bad news humans — this one’s on us.
Just like a baby, a puppy doesn’t understand where his body ends and the rest of the world begins. He catches sight of his tail and gives chase, resulting in this quintessential funny / weird dog behavior.
Usually, the only reason a dog continues to do this is because of the positive reinforcement he gets from his human parents. We laugh and egg him on, so he starts to associate it with playtime.
In some cases, tail chasing can become obsessive. (Don’t worry; it’s pretty easy to tell.) Sometimes it’s because of an itch or irritation, but in other cases it could be the result of anxiety. If you notice your dog obsessively tail-chasing, visit a vet or a behaviorist to get to help you the bottom of it.
Another evolutionary behavior that makes total sense in the wild, but looks ridiculous in your home. Wild dogs need to “smack down” tall grass to make a comfy bed, and hide from predators. Which really just means they walk around in circles until the grass is flat enough.
Nowadays, the instinct remains, even though your dog’s fuzzy blanket and comfy dog bed are plenty soft. But it’s still pretty cute to watch.
#5 Getting Weird When You're Pregnant
When a woman becomes pregnant, her dog can become overprotective (sometimes aggressively so), follow his pregnant mama around everywhere, or get extra doting and sweet.
You’ll find numerous explanations for this behavior: their keen sense of smell can pick up hormonal changes, dogs are highly tuned to their owners’ body language and emotional states, and the mom-to-be’s stress levels are making the dog anxious.
All plausible, right? It’s mostly sweet (if a little annoying; the last thing a pregnant lady needs is a nervous dog on her heels 24/7), but sometimes the anxiety level becomes a problem.
If you’re worried about how your dog will respond to a new baby, consult a behaviorist to ensure a smooth transition.
#6 Obsessed with Socks
It’s one thing to turn an old tube sock into a tug-of-war toy (although we like this one better), but when Fido starts stealing all your socks, we’ve got a problem. Especially when all your attempts to get them back turn into a hilarious game of chase.
This one has a pretty simple explanation. Your socks carry a stronger scent than the rest of your clothes, usually of sweat. (Don’t worry; to a dog’s nose, everyone has stinky feet.) Plus they’re just the right size for fun, and they’re more likely to end up lying on the floor than your other clothes.
#7 Pumping Her Leg When You Scratch the "Sweet Spot"
Another classic. This is actually an automatic reflex to keep fleas off. Her rapturous enjoyment of your scratching and her uncontrollable leg twitch are probably unrelated. (I know; that one’s kind of a bummer. Ignorance is bliss.)
#8 Barking at the Mailman. Every. Single. Day.
Normally, when a dog barks at a stranger approaching their territory, and that stranger leaves at the sound of the barking, your dog believes her ferociousness has made the stranger go away. (On the other hand, if the stranger is permitted into your house and warmly welcomed by you, your dog understands that this stranger is no longer a threat.)
If a stranger (like the mailman) returns, especially when you’re not home, your dog will bark even louder, believing her point wasn't effectively made the first time. Over time, this pattern of aggression becomes ingrained through the behavior/reward scenario. In other words, the recognizable uniform and regularly scheduled mail delivery trigger your dog to start barking.
#9 Rolling in Gross Stuff
Back in the wild days, dogs had to camouflage their scent to stalk and hunt their prey. Even though this seems silly when you’re just walking around your clean, safe neighborhood, it’s an instinctual holdover they can’t control. (It’s still gross though.)
#10 Going Crazy after a Bath
Full disclosure: this one’s my absolute favorite (and I have one that does it like mad).
You give your dog a bath and she cooperates like the good girl she is. But no sooner are you done drying her off, and ZOOM! She’s tearing around the house at the speed of light, and it. is. awesome.
There are two equally plausible explanations for this. One is that, despite how good your dog is at bath time, the experience is still stressful for her. The “zoomies” are a way for her to release that stress. The other is to get the “stink” of that horrible bath off. Dogs don’t like the clean smell of soap. And running around at warp speed helps them air out?
The other reason, of course, is fun. Science!
A visitor comes over and your dog humps his leg. Awkward!
This might not seem as weird if your dog hasn’t been neutered. But even fixed dogs can hump with the best of ‘em.
The science behind this is varied. Sometimes it’s a stress release. Other times (more so when dogs hump each other) it’s an exertion of status. And yes, it can also be the result of sexual arousal and physical excitement.
Ample stimulation and obedience training can curb compulsive humping.
#12 Licking (It’s Not A Kiss)
We think it’s sweet when our pups give us a kiss, but what about the “aggressive lick”? That’s when your dog won’t give up ‘til she licks your face — over and over again, or won’t stop licking your guest’s legs.
Licking is a primary form of communication. Dogs might lick you to let you know they’re hungry, or thirsty, or they need to go out. It also indicates submission.
Or maybe you just taste good.
#13 Sniffing Butts (Even Yours)
They’re just saying hi. Dogs who don’t sniff each other’s butts are more likely to end up in a fight. No one likes getting a dog face to the crotch, but there’s no secret meaning or compulsion behind the behavior.
Of all the critters a dog could chase — chipmunks, birds, even cats — why are they so obsessed with squirrels?
It’s called Prey Drive, and some dogs have more of it than others. In the throes of prey drive, a dog is laser-focused on catching — and killing. You won’t be able to get her attention, not even with her favorite treats.
It’s not particular to squirrels per se; squirrels are just more visible than most other critters, plus they have those bushy tails.
#15 Fun Fact! Dogs Don’t Wag Their Tails When They’re Alone
Tail-talk is a way of communicating with the pack. Happy, anxious, submissive, on alert – all these emotions can be conveyed through tail position and movement. When there are no other dogs or humans around to communicate with, the tail stays put.