ORLANDO, Fla – Why¬†does¬†my¬†dog¬†intrude on¬†my¬†bathroom breaks? Better yet, how can¬†my¬†dog¬†always seem to find¬†my¬†socks in a hamper full of options? What about the endless laps he takes¬†to find that perfect spot for a quick potty break? Plus, why does he destroy all his toys?¬†They are strange questions, but I guarantee I am not the first¬†dog¬†owner to ponder them.¬†
To better understand¬†my¬†lovable golden¬†doodle, I went in search of answers to some of life’s “ruffest”¬†questions. Lorena Patti, owner of Waggers¬†Dog¬†Works in Southwest Orlando, came to¬†my¬†rescue. The certified professional dog trainer has 14 years of experience in¬†dog¬†behavior and training. To¬†my¬†surprise, the answers she provided were far more scientific than I ever could have imagined. Enjoy.¬†
1.¬†Why¬†do¬†some¬†dogs hide their treats?¬†
Lorena: This behavior is believed to be a carryover from¬†dogs’ early evolution. Your¬†dog¬†may very well¬†find¬†hiding his treat¬†intrinsically rewarding from a long-ago behavioral echo. And if¬†it‚Äôs something your pup¬†does¬†repeatedly, then it most certainly is rewarding to him.
2.¬†Why¬†do¬†dogs circle around before going to the bathroom¬†or take forever to find a spot to¬†go No. 2?¬†
Lorena: Ha! Seriously, right? Circling before going: Turns out this has been looked at by science (really!). So, evidence found in a study published in Frontiers in Zoology points to the culprit being –¬†I kid you not – the Earth‚Äôs¬†magnetic field. What they found was¬†that¬†dogs prefer to excrete with their bodies aligned along the north-south axis when the magnetic field conditions are stable. Since the magnetic field fluctuates throughout the day, when it isn‚Äôt calm, this N-S alignment goes out the window. So it looks like the circling behavior may be your¬†dog‚Äôs “magnetic field antenna” trying to align itself to the Earth‚Äôs magnetic field. (There has to be a cartoon about¬†that¬†somewhere.)
Now,¬†taking forever to find¬†that¬†special spot has much to¬†do¬†with the¬†dog‚Äôs incredible sense of smell.¬†Dogs use their noses much like we humans use our sight. They¬†don‚Äôt¬†‚Äúsee‚ÄĚ the world as much as¬†‚Äúsmell‚ÄĚ it. And the information they pick up is ridiculously detailed. As they sniff around before relieving themselves, they are¬†picking up on all sorts of things – previous animals¬†that¬†have been in¬†that¬†area, possible scent marking by some of those animals, the health status of those animals, etc.
When a¬†dog¬†leaves their refuse, it is also depositing their scent. All these factors can affect where the¬†dog¬†finally decides to relieve himself. Some¬†dogs are pickier than others, and¬†that‚Äôs OK! Let them take their time, let them¬†‚Äúsmell the roses.‚ÄĚ¬†This information gathering is crucial for their emotional well-being, in much the same way¬†that¬†a stroll through a beautiful park where we take in the sights can be soul-healing for us humans.¬†
Another reason is¬†that¬†your pup is just simply stalling.¬†How can you tell? Well,¬†when you take him outside,¬†do¬†you bring him back inside as soon as he‚Äôs¬†done going potty? Because it‚Äôs hot, and it‚Äôs time to leave for work? If this has been the pattern, your¬†dog¬†has probably figured out¬†that¬†wrapping things up means going¬†back inside and¬†that¬†outside fun¬†time is over.
Like a kid not wanting to leave the playground, your pup could be holding it in as long as he can to make his outdoor time last¬†that¬†much longer. Fortunately, this has an easy fix¬†that¬†only requires a little planning on your part. Allow yourself more time for walks¬†and reward the elimination with some outside playtime (3-5 minutes should¬†do¬†it)¬†or. if you are walking him, with an extra lap around the block. After several days of this, you may find¬†that¬†pup speeds up the process for the fun¬†that¬†follows.
3. Staying on the bathroom topic.¬†Why¬†does my dog¬†intrude on my bathroom breaks?¬†
Lorena: Probably because since we watch them¬†do¬†their business, they figure it‚Äôs just what one¬†does. I‚Äôm kidding.¬†
This is most likely just your¬†dog¬†wanting to stay close to you because of the bond you have formed with him. It would not¬†surprise me if it also has to¬†do¬†with the, um, aroma¬†that¬†is given off. It‚Äôs part of our chemical makeup, and to our¬†dogs, it‚Äôs part of who we are. This scent (as repulsive as humans may find it) is just more information for our¬†dogs to process. They‚Äôre weird like¬†that¬†ūüėČ¬†
4.¬†Why is my dog so obsessed with my socks?¬†
Lorena: It‚Äôs all about the nose! Socks, especially dirty ones, are full of our scent. When our feet sweat, we deposit our scent through it, which is like a jackpot for¬†dogs. They can get a lot of information through the chemicals¬†that¬†we leave behind on our socks, and¬†dogs LOVE to check¬†that¬†out as if it was the canine version of TMZ. Of course, the stronger the bond we have with them, the more comforting our scent will be to them as well, so sniffing our socks can be reinforcing to them for both those reasons:¬†love and gossip.¬†
5.¬†Why¬†does¬†my¬†dog¬†lick me so much?¬†
Lorena: It‚Äôs a sign of affection. Roger Abrantes, Ph.D. in evolutionary biology, states¬†that¬†it‚Äôs a¬†dog‚Äôs way of telling you he likes you and¬†that¬†you can be his friend. This behavior is¬†introduced to¬†dogs by their mothers from the moment they are born. As such, it‚Äôs a very soothing behavior. When they¬†do¬†it to their littermates, it‚Äôs a bonding behavior and a pleasant social activity. When your¬†dog¬†does¬†it to you, he‚Äôs showing affection.¬†
You may notice¬†that¬†after a good workout, your¬†dog¬†will also lick you –¬†that‚Äôs because the taste of salt on your skin tastes good! But¬†don‚Äôt worry, he‚Äôs not¬†thinking you are being marinated. ūüôā¬†
There is, however, a specific situation where licking seems to be a behavior¬†that¬†asks for personal space. This has been observed when a young child moves into a¬†dog‚Äôs space (something to be avoided for everyone‚Äôs safety), and the¬†dog¬†responds by repeatedly and quickly licking the child. In this situation, Jennifer Shryock, founder of Family Paws Parent Education, has termed it¬†‚Äúthe Kiss to Dismiss‚ÄĚ and is a sign¬†that¬†the¬†dog¬†is uncomfortable with the child in his space. If a caretaker sees this behavior, they should call the¬†dog¬†away from the child and reward it with a treat. However, the best practice is to¬†prevent a child from moving into a¬†dog‚Äôs space: teach the child to call the¬†dog¬†over, and allow the¬†dog¬†to make the call.
6. I¬†think¬†my¬†dog¬†purposely gets his toy stuck under the couch. Could¬†that¬†be the case?¬†
Lorena: Did you know¬†that¬†dogs are fantastic trainers in their own right? Training really is a two-way street, and in communicating with each other¬†dogs also figure out how they can get us to respond. If your pup¬†does¬†this a lot,¬†pay attention to what you¬†do¬†as a result: Do¬†you always stop whatever it is you are¬†doing and help him get his toy back? At the start I mentioned¬†that¬†dogs¬†do what works for them;¬†that¬†behavior is driven by consequences. If this is a common occurrence for your¬†dog, then he‚Äôs getting something out of it. If the result was¬†that¬†the toy would then disappear, he would quickly stop¬†‚Äúlosing‚ÄĚ his toy under the couch. However, if this results in your attention, it may very well be¬†that¬†he‚Äôs figured out how to get the human to play with him when he‚Äôs being ignored!
7.¬†Why¬†is¬†my¬†dog¬†always licking his paw?¬†
Lorena: This can be due to different things. Is this something your¬†dog¬†does¬†after he‚Äôs stepped in grass, or another area? If so, I would check with your veterinarian to make sure it‚Äôs not allergies¬†or bites from bugs like¬†fire ants¬†or other insect he may have picked up on his walking route. It can sometimes also be¬†that the paw is bothering him in some other way¬†sometimes pain can make them lick an area like¬†that. Again, something to ask your veterinarian about. If medical conditions are ruled out, this behavior is also shown in¬†dogs¬†that¬†are stressed in some way (could even be¬†boredom), in the same manner¬†that¬†some of us bite our nails. An interesting tidbit is¬†that¬†this behavior is also common among¬†dogs¬†that¬†have been separated at a too-young age from their mother,¬†which has shown to influence the anxiety level in those¬†dogs. ¬†
8.¬†Why¬†does¬†my¬†dog¬†destroy every toy I¬†buy him?¬†
Lorena: Because it‚Äôs FUN!!!! (for your individual¬†dog). Some¬†dogs will care for their toys as if they were family heirlooms. Others, well, believe toys deserve to be destroyed and disemboweled. Both behaviors are normal, and your¬†dog¬†is enjoying the toy he‚Äôs murdering just as much as the¬†dog¬†who is content to gently carry it around with her. As long as your pup¬†doesn‚Äôt ingest the stuffing or the squeaker (which in many cases MUST. BE. DESTROYED!), then there is no harm in the activity. Many an owner will restuff the toy and put it away for a couple of days, only to give it back to their¬†dog¬†for more eviscerating fun. Rotate the killed toys on a daily basis, and your pup will have a blast. If your¬†dog¬†does¬†like to ingest the stuffing, there are many toys out there¬†that have no stuffing or squeakers. Also, there are other activities¬†that¬†can feed your¬†dog‚Äôs need for evisceration, like feeding him at least one of his meals from a Kong¬†or other food puzzle. Making him¬†‚Äúwork‚ÄĚ for at least one of his meals is very satisfying for most¬†dogs, and especially those¬†that¬†like to¬†‚Äúhunt.‚ÄĚ
9.¬†Why¬†does¬†my¬†dog¬†sleep above¬†my¬†head on the pillow? I’ve read¬†that¬†this could be a sign of¬†dominance or just because it’s comfortable.¬†
Lorena: Boy,¬†do¬†I have GREAT news for you!¬†Dominance in¬†dogs? It has¬†been disproven scientifically. (There‚Äôs even an¬†¬†“Adam Ruins Everything” episode on this.) Take a deep breath: You¬†don‚Äôt have to worry about having to show your¬†dog¬†that¬†you‚Äôre in charge (trust me, he already knows¬†that¬†and is more than cool with it). They have no interest in running the household or the world. They just want to be safe, to be fed, to have affection, and maybe, just maybe, share in¬†that¬†slice of pizza you may be having (or nachos, or sandwich, or ice cream, or‚Ä¶) Seriously.
Your pillow is comfortable. It is¬†imbued with your scent,¬†which is extremely comforting to him. He‚Äôs next to your head, which also has your scent wafting from it. It‚Äôs an awesome place to sleep. He‚Äôs happy there! (Sorry about the resulting bedhead in the morning, though.)
10.¬†Do¬†dogs pick favorites?¬†
Lorena:¬†That‚Äôs a very individual thing, depending on the¬†dog. Having said¬†that, however, bonds are built on common experiences, on¬†doing things together, on building communication between both parties. If a person in the household is the main caretaker of the¬†dog, the one¬†that¬†plays and trains him, the one¬†that feeds him, bathes him, etc., then¬†that‚Äôs the person¬†that will have the strongest bond with the¬†dog. If any family member wants to have a closer relationship with their¬†dog, then I always suggest to start¬†doing fun things together. Make sure you‚Äôre enjoying¬†each other‚Äôs¬†company. It‚Äôs not about control¬†but about sharing life. Yes, your¬†dog¬†will have to learn the rules of the human world. Be a GUIDE to your¬†dog, not his master. Never give your pup a reason to fear you. Bonds and friendships are two-way streets, and¬†respect easily flows from them. And¬†that¬†very special bond?¬†That‚Äôs the whole¬†point of having a pup in the first place, isn‚Äôt it?
About the expert
My name is Lorena Patti, owner of Waggers Dog Works in Southwest Orlando. I‚Äôm a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, and a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer. I‚Äôm also a Certified Fear Free Professional, and I‚Äôve been doing this for 14 years. We specialize in dogs of all ages — from welcoming a new puppy to the home of first-time puppy parents to training adolescent and adult dog — and in helping those dogs that need more help with behavior modification in order to overcome challenges with fear and aggression.
It should be noted that ALL our training is done without the use of punitive methods to the dog. It‚Äôs gentle, safe, supported by veterinary medicine, and effective. Canine behavior science has repeatedly shown that this is the case, and that fear, pain, or intimidation¬†are not only unnecessary, but harmful, in training or changing a dog‚Äôs behavior.¬†I‚Äôm a self-professed animal behavior geek, and in addition to helping my clients and their dogs, I spend much of my time on continuing education in order to keep up to date with the advances in this field. The rest of my time I devote to my husband, son, and new puppy. Sleep, alas, is optional.
I‚Äôll preface my answers with this very basic fact: Results are what drive every behavior. In other words, behavior doesn‚Äôt happen for its own sake: There is a consequence, a result, that will determine if that behavior is repeated. So¬†if a dog does something (anything) and it works for them, well,¬†they‚Äôll keep doing it. The payoff will be worth it.
Copyright 2018 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.