Dogs have a keen sense of timing, and they appear to enjoy showcasing their strangest behaviors in front of your new friends, during an important video call, or immediately after you publicly bragged about their intelligence. The “how” of their embarrassing sense of timing may be a mystery, but Billings Animal Family Hospital can help you understand the “why.”

Let’s examine four doggone strange behaviors, and understand what might be going on in the canine mind.

#1: Humping away—every day is hump day for some dogs

Humping is the elephant in the room when it comes to odd dog behaviors—impossible to ignore, and misunderstood intentions that make the behavior painfully awkward in mixed company. Humping is a reproductive behavior in unaltered pets, but in spayed and neutered pets, humping is a common expression of overarousal, excitement, or anxiety.

An over-aroused dog is faced with exciting stimuli, and unsure what to do with themselves, or how to calm down. These dogs are “over threshold” (i.e., they cannot think clearly), and need an outlet for their stressful energy. This is when basic—often repetitive—behaviors, such as humping, jumping, circling, tail-chasing, mouthing, and repetitive barking, tend to appear. Dogs in this state seem to need a reboot to return to normal programming.

While many overarousal behaviors are a harmless nuisance, over-aroused dogs can react to their environment with aggressive lunging, hyper-vigilance, predatory behaviors, and barking, and can hurt themselves or others. They need a veterinary behaviorist to teach them to respond calmly to triggering stimuli.

#2: All about that booty—butt sniffing in dogs

In movies, dogs greet each other nose to nose, with polite control and decorum. In reality, dogs appear to do a drive-by and make a beeline for the other end. Owners often feel they need to apologize for their dog’s “horrible manners,” but dogs who greet each other butt first are actually making an appropriate greeting.

Dogs deposit a complex collection of scents through their excretions, and while we may never know what they convey, a dog’s unique odor is assumed to provide information, such as reproductive status, health, age, and emotions such as confidence or fear. Sniffing dogs naturally gravitate to the strongest odor, and because they aren’t inhibited by our social concepts of “polite,” they point their nose right to the source.

For the record, in dog language, a head-on greeting is actually highly threatening and rude behavior, so rather than feel shame over your butt sniffer, you should applaud their exceptional canine social skills!

#3: Naturally weird—dogs who roll on dead things

The reason behind a dog’s fascination for rolling on dead animals, bugs, and worms is still up for debate. Many current theories are based on tracing the behavior back to dogs’ ancestry, and assuming the action is instinctual, and descended from great-grandfather wolf. 

  • This is mine This theory presumes that dogs are claiming their discovery by smothering it with their scent, so passers-by will know they were there first. This theory lacks validity, because dogs typically mark with excrement, or facial rubbing, and although dogs excrete scent through their skin glands, the mid-back is not a particularly odiferous area for communication. 
  • See what I found Some researchers hypothesize that wolves roll on dead animals to relay food information to their pack membersbut the smelly wolf does not return to the source with their pack mates. 
  • Blending in The most common consensus suggests that animals roll on dead prey to mask their own odor. If you smell like prey, they can’t smell you coming.

Whatever the motivation, two things are obviousdogs get obvious joy from rolling on the smelliest things they can find, and they almost always do so immediately after their bath.

#4: The paw lift—some dogs need hand holding

Some dogs have the endearing habit of offering their paw to be held. When unsolicited by a cue or encouragement to “shake,” this is an act of appeasement. Your dog is looking to you as their leader and provider, seeking attention, comfort, and feedback. When this behavior becomes a needy nuisance, teach your dog a positive, incompatible behavior, such as “Down,” or “Four on the floor,” and reward them generously.

A dog who lifts their paw while sitting or standing, holding the paw slightly above the ground, is conveying a slightly different message. With the exclusion of hunting dogs, who may assume this pose while stalking or pointing, dogs who lift a paw are often emotionally conflicted, or unsure of their situation, and need time before proceeding. A dog who lifts their paw as you approach may appreciate you keeping your distance, and letting them come to you

We may never fully comprehend the entire catalog of canine behavior, but we can use this information to better understand our dogs. Knowledge breaks down the barrier, and we should accept their peculiarities as part of who they are.

Do you have questions about your dog’s strange behaviors, or would you like to schedule an appointment to discuss their reactive or inappropriate issues? Contact the Billings Animal Family Hospital teamwe can help you understand your beloved, but sometimes strange, dog.