Have you ever looked at your dog and wondered with bemusement, “Why the heck are you doing that?”
It’s true, whilst in some ways dogs are very easy-to-understand creatures, occasionally they’ll do something that’ll make us pause in our tracks. From their quirky habits to their unique communication styles, dogs never fail to entertain or intrigue us.
In this blog, we'll delve into three of the most common “why are you doing that?!” dog behaviours, exploring the reasons as to why they do what they do. So, the next time you witness your canine companion displaying any of these behaviours - such as having long sniff sessions on walks, scratching or kicking after going to the toilet, or circling their bed before sleeping - you’ll know exactly what’s motivating this quirky habit.
You’ve probably been there; you’re leisurely walking along with your dog, only for your arm to nearly be ripped out of its socket because your dog has suddenly stopped to sniff a patch of grass.
And they can sniff for ages.
So why do dogs become so engrossed in sniffing? Well, the answer lies in their extraordinary sense of smell.
Dogs possess approximately 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, which is pretty amazing when compared to a human’s puny 5-6 million. But this heightened sense of smell is essentially a dog's primary way of understanding the world around them.
So when you take your dog out on a walk, and your dog is encountering all the many fascinating scents left behind by other animals, humans, and even other dogs…it’s like the world’s most mesmerising story to them.
That’s why when your dog stops to sniff, you shouldn’t immediately start yanking them away to continue the walk. You might think that the act of walking is how they’re being stimulated and exercised, however sniffing is its own form of mental stimulation and a way to gather information about their environment.
By sniffing about, they're deciphering scents and messages left behind by other creatures. For example, dogs can tell if another dog has passed by, whether a human has dropped some tasty food, or if there are potential threats nearby.
It's your dog’s way of keeping a tab on their surroundings and also making sense of the world.
So, the next time your dog goes on a sniffing spree during your walk, try to be patient. It's not just a way to delay you and make the walk last longer; it's their way of engaging with the world and satisfying their curious (and nosy!) nature. Allow them to explore and take in the rich tapestry of scents that the world has to offer.
All sizes, ages and breeds of dogs can exhibit this behaviour of kicking after going to the toilet, so if your dog has ever scratched/kicked at a patch of grass after peeing or pooping then just know you’re not alone.
This scratching or kicking at the motion is actually rooted in ancestral instincts, ingrained in their very DNA, as although they’re now domesticated - in the wild dogs are natural scavengers and predators.
That’s why, after they’ve “done their business”, dogs instinctively try to hide the evidence. This is to avoid attracting potential threats or competitors to what they consider their territory. So although our dogs may be the most pampered pooches about, some of these instincts still persist.
In summary: scratching or kicking after going to the toilet is your dog's way of covering their tracks. It's a primitive, instinctive response, similar to a wild dog burying its faeces to avoid detection by other animals.
Likewise, you may already be aware that dogs have scent glands in their paws. And when they scratch the ground, these scent glands release pheromones which act as a signal to other dogs and communicate their presence and status.
So, it's not simply about hiding their waste; it's also about marking their territory in a subtle way too.
Basically, if Fido begins to kick or scratch at the ground after going to the toilet at the local park - there’s no need to be alarmed. This is totally normal behaviour linked back to ancient instincts.
(Just be ready to duck out of the way if they kick any clumps of mud in your direction!)
Finally, one of the cutest yet most puzzling behaviours a dog might demonstrate in their bedtime ritual. You may have even sat back and watched your dog circle their bed in what appears to be an endless loop, before settling down on their bed for the night.
But why do they scratch or circle their bed before going to sleep or lying down?
Is it simply to get more comfortable or because they’re being a bit fussy? No, in fact this is another carryover from their ancestors' habits.
Like their wild ancestors, dogs have a natural instinct to create a sleep spot which is both comfortable and safe. Back in the good old days, when they lived in the wild, our dogs’ ancestors would trample down tall grass or leaves to create a cosy nest.
Scratching and circling before lying down is therefore just your dog’s way of making sure their sleep spot is up to scratch and “just right” for them…even if it is the cosiest, plushest dog bed you could afford from the pet store.
But what about circling? How does that make a sleep spot comfortable or safe?
Again, circling was a wild dog’s way to flatten vegetation, but it also served a functional purpose in helping them to check for potential threats or discomforts on the ground too. In short, by walking around in a circle, they could ensure that the area was safe and free from hazards. Clever, huh?
So, when your dog scratches and circles their bed, they're not being fussy or picky or playing Goldilocks; they're simply following their instincts to create a comfortable and safe sleeping spot. It's a behaviour deeply rooted in their evolutionary history, and it's their way of ensuring a peaceful night's sleep.
If you’ve ever asked these questions about your pooch’s behaviour, we hope today’s blog has shed some light on why they do what they do and helped nurture your bond with your pup.
Whether it's their habit of sniffing heaps on walks (so much so that you have to factor in an extra 10 to 15 minutes on your route)...their post-toilet scratch and kick that means you have to dodge clumps of mud/grass like it’s a reflex test…or their pre-sleep bed ritual where they circle so many times that Kylie Minogue’s “Spinning Around” starts to play in your head…
These behaviours are all rooted in their evolution and sensory capabilities. So, the next time you observe your canine companion demonstrating any of these behaviours, be proud that they’re connecting with their instinctive canine nature.
And if you want to find extra ways to stimulate those natural behaviours and instincts, make sure to check out our treat toys and puzzles. Plus, take a look at our top training and travel accessories for when you’re out exploring the big, wide world together…
Happy sniffing, kicking and circling - pup pals!