©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
Today’s article is about a form of anthropomorphism (i.e., treating dogs like humans) that drives me crazy. It’s the habit that some dog owners get into of being shocked and disgusted when their dog does normal “dog things.” Breed of dog and price paid for the dog don’t impact these behaviors – much to the dismay of some frustrated dog owners.
Below are some of the “complaints” that I frequently hear about dogs.
1) “My dog pants too loudly when he comes inside.”
How dare your dog not use his “inside pant” when he’s in the house! Of course we all know that dogs pant as a way to cool off (they also lose heat by paw sweating). Another reason dogs pant is because of stress. Both are natural responses and mean nothing more than the dog needs to slough off some heat or is stressed.
2) “My dog licks his/her genitals.”
Since dogs don’t understand how to take a bath or shower on their own, they take things into their own hands (tongues?) when it comes to urogenital cleanliness. Completely normal. Dogs don’t have the hang-ups about “private body parts” like humans do; licking their urogenital area is no different to them than licking their paws.
3) “My dog drools.”
There is a big difference between breeds when it comes to drooling. If you own a Neapolitan Mastiff, you know what I mean. Breeds with loose or droopy lips seem to drool the most. Since most humans are fairly “tight lipped,” most of us don’t drool. However, if a dog is drooling excessively, it can indicate stress or a possible health problem.
4) “My dog sniffs his own poop and other dogs’ poop.”
This practice is called coprophagia and, believe it or not, is profoundly common in all breeds. There are guesses as to why dogs do this, but we aren’t sure what the real reasons are. There are some things you can do to slow this normal behavior down. If you contact me, I’ll be happy to send you a handout I’ve prepared on coprophagia.
5) “My dog loves to roll around on dead stuff.”
This is another normal canine behavior that we really have no solid idea as to why dogs do it. You typically see this when you take your dog out of his normal environment – like to a park. Best bet is to steer him away from the recently, or not so recently, deceased animal.
6) “My dog vomits and then eats it.”
Some dog owners actually consider this a courtesy on the dog’s part. Okay, I’m kidding…well kind of. This behavior is biblical. Seriously, the bible talks about dogs eating their own vomit. Dogs don’t see their own vomit as something disgusting like we do. They also, through eons of evolution, have learned not to waste any food sources.
7) “My dog smells other dogs’ genitals and anus.”
Simply stated, this is a normal greeting ritual for dogs. In fact, how dogs do this is an important assessment marker of a dog’s behavioral health. Humans shake hands; dogs smell genitals and anuses.
8) “My dog follows me everywhere.”
If your dog follows you around, it means that you are a predictor of good things. Hanging around you brings him comfort, fun, food, etc. In my opinion, this is a great thing and one of the reasons I love dogs. Dogs that do this a lot are called “Velcro dogs.” Too much of a good thing, however, may indicate problems. If this behavior is excessive or compulsive, it could be an indicator of separation anxiety. See a dog behavior consultant or animal behaviorist if you have any concerns.
9) “My dog goes after every squirrel or rabbit he sees.”
It’s called prey behavior and is about as normal as it gets when it comes to dogs. Your dog isn’t acting aggressively to these animals; he’s acting hungry.
If your dog is displaying these behaviors, please enjoy and deal with them because they are part of all dogs’ DNA. However, if you feel your dog is doing any of these behaviors excessively, please see a dog behavior consultant, animal behaviorist or veterinarian.
For more information on anthropomorphism, see Dog Owners Frequently Get This Training Concept Wrong.