You can often see a dog circling around and around, chasing its own tail. They try to grab the tail with their mouth and then spin around chasing it. Sometimes they spin around so much that they can make themselves dizzy. For us, watching it can be hilarious, but a little worrying, as it can make you believe that the dog has gone a bit crazy.
Dogs are very social animals and they love to explore things. If they are deprived of companions or if they are kept in a very plain, restrictive environment, they do suffer from boredom, and the worst things you can do to punish the dog is to keep it alone in a very small place. Tail chasing is sometimes seen in wild dogs in zoos that have been kept in cramped cages by themselves. Animals like this can frequently be seen with typical actions like chewing, pacing and paw biting. You could almost call it a self-harm or self-punishment behaviour, and in extreme cases the animals actually cause flesh wounds and sores. The tail chasing is a very mild form of this type of behaviour. So unfortunately, dogs that persistently tail chase are usually ones that have been kept in very boring conditions.
Tail chasing can often be seen in puppies that have been recently isolated from their litter mates, and without friends to play with they seek new forms of stimulation. It seems that a dog’s tail can be the best companion available when there is no-one else to play with. Lonely puppies do normally grow out of it; if they don’t, then it usually means that there is a problem with the animal’s environment and it needs more social interaction and things to explore. A chronic tail chaser can usually be cured by just decreasing the animal’s boredom.
Rolling in unpleasant things
Dogs do love to find a really stinky, vile smell and roll about over it. It may be cow dung, fox poo or a decaying, dead bird. The more disgusting, the better the dog seems to find it, but why is this? This still remains a bit of a mystery. There are a number of different views on why dogs do this, and I shall go through the most common thoughts of explanation.
One thought is that they are trying to mark over the smell. For instance, if a dog urinates up a post, then another dog will urinate at the same place to disguise the first dog’s smell, so some believe that the dog feels compelled to mask the odour by rubbing their own smell over it. I personally believe that this explanation is not a very good one, as usually the dog ends up smelling of the thing they rolled in, rather than the other way around.
Another thought is that they are using the smell as camouflage for hunting. So, they are trying to disguise their own smell with a prey-type smell.
Another suggestion is that it is a communication tool, as it allows the dog to tell other dogs about its recent find. As soon as the dog greets any other dogs they will be instantly able to smell what the dog has come in contact with.
The final idea to talk about is that the dogs get some sort of high or odour ecstasy from the strong-smelling substance, a bit like the reaction cats have when they come in contact with cat nip, a sort of mad moment.
Human to dog communication
We often communicate with our dogs subconsciously; we don’t even realise we are doing it. We are often saying something very different to what we think we are. Below I have listed human-type behaviour and what it communicates to the dogs.
The Tummy tickle
This provides the dog with sexual pleasure. When a dog mounts a female and makes pelvic thrusts, its belly and chest rub against the bitch’s back in a rhythmic way, so by rubbing his tummy with our hands we are stimulating him in such a way that it reminds him of a pleasurable sexual experience.
Scratching behind the ears
This also has sexual significance, because ear licking, sniffing and nibbling are all present in the first stages of dog courtship.
Gently pushing the dog away
This signals to the dog that we have joined it in the play fights. The dog will immediately leap forward and as soon as it is pushed away again, the game will then continue and develop into play. By using this type of interaction, as long as the dog is gentle, it is a very good way of strengthening the bonds between the dog and the person.
We see patting as a way of embracing our friend as we do the same thing with our loved ones. The dog sees it differently, but still in a rewarding way. The dog will interpret a pat as nudging or nuzzling contact. This is something that is done by puppies to the bellies of their mothers, and by submissive dogs to the dominant ones. The dogs read it as a submissive act on our part, but if they understand that we are the dominant members of the pack they will interpret it as a reassurance display. Dominant top dogs will do this to more submissive dogs to put them at ease.
This has less impact on the dog than patting. The dog associates it with gentle grooming from its mother when the dog was a puppy.
Dogs like to have hugs and cuddles because it reminds them of their days with their litter mates when they all cuddle up together to feel secure and warm.
Rubbing the side of the dog’s head
When a human rubs the side of the dog’s head, especially along the jaw line, the dog really appreciates it as this action is often done by the dog to provide comfort to the mild irritation in the dog’s muzzle area.
Tail between their legs
When a dog is scared or fearful of something, a dog will place its tail between its legs, but why they do this has nothing to do with the tail, but what they are covering up with it.
When dogs tuck their tail right underneath them, they do this to cut off the scent signals from their bottom. When two confident dogs meet they will proudly raise the tail and expose the bottom, so that the other dog can smell it, as the smell will identify the dog and tell the other dog important information about it. A submissive dog will lower its tail as a dominant dog approaches. It will quickly tuck its tail tightly between its legs, therefore not advertising the odour to the dominant dog. It is also a very important visual message, as a dog approaching from a distance will be able to see whether the dog is a dominant dog or submissive one.
No one is really sure why; there are a lot of theories but no hard proof. Some say it is boredom, some say it is a way of the dog self-medicating to help an upset tummy. As grass is not very easily digested, some dogs vomit after eating it, but not always. Some people think that it is the dog’s way of adding roughage to its diet, or that they want to make up for a lack of vitamins. Who knows?
When a dog rolls over to show its tummy to you and possibly dribbles urine, licks its lips and wags its tail, it is being submissive. Yet, it is a way for the dog to make contact with something they are attracted to, yet have a resistance towards. Some say that it is a state of sexual arousal, which behaviour tracks back to when the dog’s mother stimulates it to pass urine and faeces by licking its tummy. So, this position is a way for the dog to present itself to be cleaned.
Some also feel that this behaviour is submissively acting like prey, but why? Well, in some ways prey controls the predator. When the dog rolls over onto its back, it is being emotionally attractive to the human or other dog. This gives the dog power, as it now feels it can be exploited as an object of attraction. So suddenly, the dominant person/dog is now giving attention to the submissive dog, putting the submissive dog in control. It is the same as a baby screaming (as if it is hurt) for attention from its mother. The mother believes that she is in control, but actually the baby is manipulating her. Puppies do the same thing with their mother.
Interestingly, it can also be seen in softer-natured adult dogs. When someone makes them the object of attention they feel pressured, and will show their tummy in order to allow them to gain some control.
The posture also prevents serious fights and reinforces the hierarchy of the pack.
The action of a dog running crazy, like around the garden or house, is referred to as ‘frequent random activity periods’, but there is absolutely nothing random about it. It is a way for the dog to release the stress of being scared about something (this could be something as small as a leaf falling). It only stops once the dog feels safe.
When it happens, the dog will tuck its tail under between its legs and will hunch its hindquarters as it corners, just before speeding off again. It looks a lot like the dog is being chased by an imaginary predator. The ‘predator’ is close behind it, snapping at its tail so that the dog has to zig and zag to escape.
The worst thing a person can do is encourage this kind of behaviour or play chase, as this will just cause you to become the scary predator, and will cause issues in other ways.
The behaviour of a dog circling before it sits down is a left-over wild instinct. Wild dogs and wolves circle before laying down for some very important reasons. They do it to make a nice, safe place to sleep. They trample down the tall grass etc. to make it comfortable and to scare off or unearth any insects or snakes lurking in that area.
It may also be a social behaviour wild dogs and wolves use, as they travel in packs and at night they sleep in a tight circle to protect each other and to keep warm. So an individual within the pack will circle to stake their claim on a spot and establish their own space within the pack’s sleeping area.
Muzzle grabbing is a common behaviour seen in dogs; it is used to confirm a relationship. A more dominant, confident dog will gently grab a less dominant and confident dog’s muzzle, to assert its social position. Some submissive dogs will even invite a dominant dog to muzzle grab.
Sometimes you will see muzzle grabbing at the end of a challenge. Dogs will only do it to dogs they know well. Basically it is a way of a dog saying “you’re smaller than me”. It is normally a safe, subtle challenge over a resource. Puppies and young dogs will sometimes offer themselves to be muzzle grabbed to say “I’m still smaller then you”.
The muzzle grab behaviour starts early. Mothers will grab their puppies to stop them from suckling during weaning. Puppies will also muzzle grab each other during play. It is probably through play that a puppy learns that a muzzle grab is a good way of stopping another puppy from doing something. They will also learn bite inhibition when muzzle grabbing. If a puppy bites too hard they will be told off by the other puppy, and they will develop a bond of trust between them.
Sometimes a muzzle grab will be used to settle a dispute; in this case the grab looks a lot more violent. Even though it is more violent, it is very unlikely that they will get hurt. The dispute will end with the grabbed party displaying submissive behaviour.
Dogs will occasionally approach their owners puffing to them gently with their noses. The owner should then hold them gently around the muzzle. This will reaffirm our status in the pack to them and show acceptance of them. The grabbed dog will, after a few moments, normally nose lick, or yawn and then walk calmly away.