Dogs see the world from their own unique perspective and do things based on instinct. To canines, it’s perfectly natural to search the trash for an interesting tidbit, or chase the neighborhood cat that dares to enter their domain. Dogs instinctively know it’s wise to circle before lying down even though their bed is inside away from biting insects. Some of the things dogs do seem odd to us, though. Here are five strange behaviors of dogs and why they do them.
Kicks Leg When Scratched
Your dog is relaxing on his back and you scratch what you think is a “sweet spot” on his belly. He immediately responds by kicking his leg in the air. Some dogs react when their lower chest or upper area of the back leg is scratched. You didn’t really find a sweet spot, but you did hit a nerve and his rapid kicks are involuntary. It’s the same reaction we have when the doctor taps our knee with a rubber mallet to check our reflex. In fact, a vet may check a dog’s scratch reflex to determine if the dog is dealing with a neurological concern.
You can tell if your dog enjoys being scratched by watching his body language. If he’s relaxed and lying on his back with his tongue dangling from his opened mouth, he’s probably OK with it. But if his legs are stiff, his mouth is closed, his ears are flattened and he shows signs of wanting to move – he is likely saying “stop doing that.” Think about it this way – if your doctor kept hitting your knee over and over with his hammer to activate your reflex, would you enjoy it?
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Some breeds, like hounds and herding dogs, were bred to vocalize when prey is sighted or when working with livestock. Barking is one way that canines communicate, but we don’t always understand what they are trying to say. Frustration barking, demand barking and boredom barking are three common issues that dog owners face. I’ll offer solutions for those barking problems in this post, and I’ll cover four additional types of barking problems in a follow-up post.
Any kind of barrier (window, fence, baby gate, etc.) that keeps a dog confined and restricts his movement can be extremely frustrating for some canines. In their eyes, not being able to chase a rabbit they see through the confines of a dog pen or a window isn’t right. Frustration barking is an excited, insistent bark. A stressed-out dog, or one confused about what you want him to do, can also bark to vocalize his frustration.
How to correct – Changing your dog’s behavior takes time, lots of patience, committed dedication, and plenty of his favorite CANIDAE treats. Yelling won’t stop barking and only increases the excitement of his voice. You have to physically get up and go to your dog, unless he’s a champ at coming when called – especially when distracted. If he understands the “watch me” or “look at me” commands, use a treat to get his attention. Once he’s distracted, engage him in some playtime to give the source of his frustration time to pass by.
We went to the animal shelter last weekend to visit with the shelter pets and give them some one-on-one attention. We do this fairly often and it always pulls on my heart strings; I want to bring carloads of the sweet, homeless animals home with us, but I know it’s not feasible so I stay strong and do what we’re there to do.
On this visit, however, my heart strings were nearly ripped out of my chest. The puppies! Our local shelters are bursting with loveable little puppies. When I got over the initial cuteness-overload response, this made perfect sense. One of the most common reasons dogs are taken to animal shelters is because of excessive barking. This time of year, many puppies that were given as gifts over the holidays are now being relinquished to shelters for things like barking and biting and generally being a puppy. It’s reported that one-fifth of all the dogs adopted from shelters are returned within a few months. What a sad statistic.
Our recent shelter visit compelled me to review my previous article on Tips to Curb Puppy Biting and Aggression and expand the subject to include excessive puppy barking. My goal is to educate new puppy owners on what to expect from young, precocious pups and offer suggestions to curb or even prevent these unwanted behaviors.
Why does my puppy bark so much?
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, but it usually boils down to some form of communication, boredom, a request for attention, or a response to a perceived threat. Your dog wants to be a contributing member of the family and they often assign themselves the role of the protector. Everything is new to a puppy, so his barking may be a warning that a garbage truck is nearby or a neighbor is walking past the house or your hat is on crooked.
Dogs are like us in that some enjoy “talking” as much as some people do. A dog’s way of communicating is usually a bit louder than ours, though. Most pet owners who pay attention to their pet can understand what their dog’s bark means. What’s interesting about a barking or growling dog is they can change the pitch and tone of their voice to communicate to us and other dogs what they are trying to say, and what their intentions are.
What Pitch Means
Our tone of voice is understood by dogs. They can tell by the pitch in our voice whether we are pleased or displeased with them. The supposed guilty look dogs have is a myth and is a reaction to the harsh tone of voice we use when they misbehave and we’re upset with them.
Dogs also use pitch to communicate when they feel threatened or indicate they aren’t a threat. Growling is done in a low pitch and says “I’m scared or angry and could become aggressive.” It says the dog needs space and wants the other dog or person to back off and stay away. It’s a way for a dog to suggest he may be larger than he really is, or for larger dogs to communicate their bigger size to another animal.
A whine or whimper is a high pitched sound that says “I’m not a threat and have no intention of being aggressive. I’m harmless and need help or would like to come closer.” It makes the whimpering dog sound non-threatening regardless of his actual size.
One nice thing about cats is that no matter how insistent they meow for their supper, it usually won’t annoy the neighbors. A barking dog can, on the other hand. Some breeds use their voice more than others, and others will bark just for attention. Thankfully, there are some dogs that typically don’t bark a lot.
Chinese Shar-Pei – Bred in southern China as an all purpose farm dog, the wrinkly Shar-Pei dates back to at least the 1200s. The breed was highly prized as a herder, hunter, tracker, and guard dog for property and livestock. He shares his distinct blue-black tongue with only one other dog breed, the ancient Chow Chow, also from China. Shar-Pei means “sand skin” in Chinese. This breed is intelligent, devoted to his family, an independent thinker with a stubborn streak, wary of people and dogs he doesn’t know, and a good watchdog. As a general rule, the Shar-Pei only barks when he’s worried about something or during play.
Rhodesian Ridgeback – This is an ancient breed native to South Africa, developed by farmers who needed an intelligent, athletic and courageous dog for hunting, herding, and guarding livestock and the home from large predators. Also known as the African Lion Hound, the Ridgeback was used to hunt lions and leopards, holding them at bay until a hunter came. A distinctive ridge of hair along the spine, growing in the opposite direction from the rest of the coat, is how the breed got its name. The Ridgeback is extremely devoted to his family and will do what’s necessary to defend them. Read More »
We just moved into a new home. As is always the case, the move was filled with highlights and lowlights; for us and for our pets. The dogs seem to have made the adjustment the quickest, with one exception: they bark a lot. I guess they are reacting to the smells and noises they are not accustomed to, but it is seriously driving me crazy. I can only imagine what our neighbors think of “the new kids on the block!”
Because I work from home, it’s fairly easy for me to get up and let them come inside so the neighbors (and I) can enjoy some peace and quiet. But one of the reasons we moved to this house in the first place was so the dogs could have a proper back yard to hang around in. I needed help, so I went on a quest to learn how to reduce my dogs’ unnecessary barking. The problem, however, is that there are so many different recommendations for how to handle this specific situation, and some of them sound downright inhumane.
It took me a good bit of research before I settled on a tactic. I think Modern Dog Magazine is a reputable source, so I’m trying the method recommended by guest contributor Stanley Coren, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of many books about dogs, including Pawprints of History and How to Speak Dog. Coren starts by telling you what not to do quell unnecessary dog barking (even though it is sometimes tempting). He says not to yell “stop barking” or “no” or anything similar when your dog tunes up. Apparently when you shout, your dog interprets your sharp voice as a bark, as if you are joining the canine chorus. The dog will assume you condone his actions and may even ramp up the volume.
Coren explains that wild canine adults do not bark much because silence is necessary when hunting; noises may alert potential prey to the pack’s whereabouts and scare the evening’s dinner away. Pups and adolescents in the wild have not yet learned the necessity of quiet hunting and may bark at inappropriate times. When adolescents accompany their elders on a hunt and sound off unnecessarily, a dominant wolf will place his mouth over the pup’s muzzle, firmly but without actually biting, and issue a soft growl that can only be heard nearby. The young canine understands this signal and gets quiet quickly.
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