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How To Understand Dog Behaviours: Are You Listening To Your Dog?

Understanding Dog Behaviours

Over the years, how many times have you wished your dog could talk to you and tell you how he/she is feeling? Well, here's the thing, your dog has been doing exactly that.

The problem is that we as humans struggle to interpret the ways in which our dogs talk to us. Many of us have a strong desire to understand dog behaviours and to understand exactly what our dog's are telling us each day. 

Debra Horwitz, Veterinary Behaviourist and Lead Editor of Decoding Your Dog, believes the key is to look at your dog's body overall, rather than a section such as the tail. Observing what your dog does with his face, body, and tail in particular situations will tell you if your dog is feeling calm, happy, scared or aggressive. Take a good look at your dog, what do you observe from their face, body and tail?

Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) in dogs

Debra Horwitz of VCA Hospitals considers known obsessive compulsive behaviours within dogs to include:
  • Acral lick dermatitis
  • Flank sucking
  • Pacing
  • Circling incessant or rhythmic barking
  • Fly snapping or chasing unseen objects
  • Freezing and staring
  • Polydipsia (excessive drinking)
  • Sucking, licking, or chewing on objects (or owners)
  • Tonguing or licking the air 

Normal dog behaviours

As dog owners, it's important that we do our best to understand dog behaviour to the best of our ability. Understanding the difference between normal dog behaviours and abnormal dog behaviours can be the difference between a happy dog and a happy home life or a dog being taken away for rehoming. It is very easy for you to misinterpret what your dog is telling you each day.

Many dog owners are so committed to learning about dog behaviours that they employ the services of a dog behaviourist and even undertake dog behaviourist courses.

Here are 9 "normal dog behaviours" to get you started:   

Panting: dogs pant primarily to cool themselves. As dogs do not sweat the way humans do, they rely on the exchange of air at their mouth to cool their body temperature. Since this is a very inefficient process, we as caring dog owners must do our best to keep our dogs cool. This will prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which can be fatal in dogs. 

Some dogs pant due to anxiety, stress or fear. Removing your dog from the stressful situation is the best action you can take. Panting may also be a sign of illness or injury in your dog. If your dog's panting seems to be a problem, be sure to contact your vet right away.

Sniffing other dogs' butts: a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 - 100,000 times more sensitive than that of a human's sense of smell. This incredible sensitivity is crucially important for dogs. A dog learns about the world around it through its nose. Mutual sniffing among dogs is a normal way for them to learn about each other.

Many of a dog's most concentrated scents are located in the area of the anus and genitals. A dog can learn about gender, reproductive status, temperament, diet and much more just from sniffing a dog's rear.

Head tilting: head tilting is especially common in puppies. This behaviour can have a few different meanings.  Your dog will tilt its head to the side to get in a better position to hear or see something.

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Tail chasing: this is a common behaviour in dogs. In some cases, tail-chasing is a natural, playful activity. However, excessive tail chasing can be a sign of a health or behaviour problem such as OCD.  

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Barking & howling: vocalisation, especially barking, is normal behaviour in dogs. Barking is common when a dog senses danger. Howling often occurs when dogs hear other dogs howl or even similar noises like sirens. Excessive vocalisation can be a sign of distress or boredom. 

Scooting butts along the floor: if this is something your dog does don't worry. Dogs scoot their butts along the ground because something is irritating them back there. You might also see your dog suddenly jump up when they are asleep or sitting quietly and turn around quickly. This is due to sudden pain and usually relates to an issue with the dog's anal glands, which are located on either side of the anus.

These sacs fill with oily, stinky fluid. In some dogs, the anal glands naturally express or empty during bowel movements. However, some dogs need a little help from vets to express their anal glands. It is very important that you check with your vet to see if your dog's anal glands need expressing. This condition can cause pain in your dog and make it unhappy and unable to eat due to discomfort. 

Humping: humping behaviour is quite natural in dogs. Contrary to what you might think, humping is not always sexual. It's also not related to dominance. Dogs usually hump each other as a part of normal play. They may also playfully hump objects and people. Excitement (non-sexual) and attention-seeking may also be reasons for humping.

Digging: dogs usually dig because they are bored or anxious. Some dogs dig to hide their toys from other dogs (or perceived threats to their possessions). Dogs may also dig when it is hot to find a cooler spot to lie down on.

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Leaning on people: many dogs love to lean on their owners' legs or feet. This seems especially common in large dog breeds. The reason for this is that your dog loves you and wants to be closer to you - dogs are affectionate creatures. Don't let anyone tell you that this behaviour is a sign of your dog trying to dominate you - that's considered to be highly unlikely!

Is your dog happy & stimulated?

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A happy and stimulated dog will likely run around with pure joy, wag its tail, bark, grin, and spin in circles. His body will look soft and relaxed. His ears will be relaxed, he'll have a soft pant and soft eyes. Everything about him will say "I'm happy, calm and loving life with my human pack".

Here's Monty smiling and bursting with excitement. He loves playing on the beach. People are often amazed to see an English Bulldog sprint to the top of a huge sand dune. Doing the things that keep him exercised and stimulated ensures we have a happy and healthy Monty. 

Spend a few moments researching your dog's breed. Here's a useful link to InfoDogs which is a good place to learn about a wide range of dog breeds.  Once you know exactly what toys, treats and activities keep your dog happy and stimulated, offer her these things as often as you can. 

Is your dog afraid of something?

Dog owners often confuse fear in a dog with guilt, says Melissa Bain, Assistant Professor of Clinical Animal Behaviour at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.  Dog's demonstrate different behaviours depending on the situation they are fearful of.

Example 1: you come home from work to find your dog has had an accident in the house, or maybe she’s chewed your shoe. You express strong disapproval, giving her a stern talking too. She reacts by holding her body close to the ground, pinning her ears back, and tucking her tail between her legs.

Example 2: when a dog is afraid of something or someone that’s coming at him, he’s likely to get into a defensive posture that signals he’s ready to fight. It’s likely that your dog will “go rigid and tall, trying to make himself look bigger than he is. His tail (if he has one), will go up high and remain stiff. 

Is your dog angry?

If your dog tears up your furniture while you’re away, you may think he's angry at you. Most dogs who demonstrate this destructive type of behaviour fear being alone.  They’re displaying separation anxiety. Some dogs do this because they don’t get enough attention or exercise. Talk with your vet, or a dog behaviourist, to find some effective solutions.

Is your dog in pain?

Crying can be another area of misunderstanding. Many owners believe that a dog's whining is a signal that the dog is in pain or in fear of something. In some cases, it could be that your dog is simply pleading with you to put your phone down and give it some much needed attention.

Your dog wants to play with you and receive your love and attention more than anything. These simple things will make your dog very happy! 

Dogs also whine when they’re anxious. If your dog is whining, check her over to make sure she’s not in pain. If you give her attention and she still doesn’t stop, contact your vet.

Dog behaviourist courses & expert support

Should you wish to learn more and explore the fascinating world of dog behaviours then you might consider speaking to a dog behaviourist or perhaps undertaking dog behaviourist training. As an example, here is a link to some courses you may find of interest.  One thing's for certain, there are many people around the world who find the subject of dog behaviours as fascinating as we do at Monty's Dog Store.


Having the understanding to interpret what your dog is telling you will only enhance your dog's life and the loving bond that exists between you. Often the signs given by your dog will be subtle. Picking up on these signs could help you to identify potential health issues early, which your vet can then address before they escalate further.  

We would be delighted to receive your feedback in the comments section below. Let us know if you found the article interesting and helpful. 

You can also share with us any ideas you have for future articles that you would like to appear on the store.

We are always looking to engage with dog owners and dog lovers, as much as possible, to provide interesting and helpful information, which helps to ensure dogs remain happy, healthy and stimulated.

Thank you and take care.  



Notes for Editors

Monty's Dog Store is an online pet store based in Warrington, Cheshire (UK).

Dog Behaviours

Monty's Dog Store is passionate about supporting dog owners. Our range of dog products focus on dogs demonstrating good dog behaviours, which are considered to be normal dog behaviours. We know that some dogs demonstrate abnormal dog behaviours, which need to be addressed through changes to diet, exercise and training.

Aggressive or bad dog behaviour should not be tolerated, as this can lead to serious problems between people and dogs, and also dogs interacting with other dogs.  In most cases, bad dog behaviour can be easily addressed.   

KONG Dog Toys

Monty's Dog Store sells branded KONG dog toys. Our range of dog toys, include: tough dog toys for aggressive chewers, and power chewing dogs. These are considered to be indestructible dog toys. We also offer interactive dog toys to keep your dog happy, stimulated, thinking. To enhance a your dog's playtime pleasure, we also provide puzzle dog toys to offer plenty of challenges and variety.

Our range of KONG dog toys, include tough soft dog toys, and cuddle dog toys for dogs that love to cuddle, suckle and sleep with their soft toys. Cuddle dog toys provide comfort for dogs and are ideal soft dog toys for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety.  We provide dog owners with a wide variety of great dog toys to choose from. These great toys keep dogs happy, healthy and stimulated.  

As the gold standard of dog toys for over 40 years, KONG dog toys are considered to be the toughest dog toys available on the market. Whether a dog breed is small, medium or large, Monty's Dog Store, caters for dogs that love soft dog toys, indestructible dog toys and interactive dog toys. We are delighted to also offer a selection of eco friendly dog toys, and dog toys made from KONG natural rubber. 

Skin & Fur Care

Monty's Dog Store offers a great range of Skin & Fur Care grooming products for dogs. Our dog grooming products, include: Soothing & Conditioning Shampoo - Oatmeal & Aloe Vera made with essential oils, Natural Nose Skin & Paw Balm, also our Natural Soothing Skin Salve, and the fantastic KONG ZoomGroom Dog Brush.

We consider the KONG ZoomGroom Dog Brush to be a best dog grooming brush on the market. This can also be used as a pet brush for other types of pets to keep their fur looking shiny and healthy. Having tested a range of dog brushes, we believe that the KONG ZoomGroom Dog Brush is one of the best professional dog grooming brushes available.

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