Information on "Why Does My Dog" Questions

Have you ever watched your dog as he spins in circles before lying down, or listened as he howls at sirens, and just thought, “WHY”? We’ve compiled some simple and straightforward answers to many of your burning questions about your dog’s behavior and health.

Read on to learn more about some of the fascinating quirks that help to define our four-legged friends; it's free!



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Why Does My Dog?…

Why Does My Dog Eat Rocks?

Your dog may be craving attention or he may be acting out of boredom, frustration, or anxiety, and munching on rocks may be a way that he knows you’ll notice him. It is also possible that he may have an underlying medical issue including:

  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Diabetes
  • Intestinal tract disorder

While eating rocks is a fairly common behavior in dogs, it is neither healthy nor safe. Biting or chewing rocks can damage your dog’s teeth and gums, and ingesting them can cause choking, intestinal blockages, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your dog continues to eat rocks, despite your efforts to control his habit, he may require a trip to the vet to rule out any serious medical conditions.



Why Does My Dog Vomit Yellow Foam?

Your dog is probably hungry and you might need to feed him smaller meals throughout the day. Vomiting yellow foam is a common sign of an empty stomach in dogs. The fluid gets its yellow color from bile, which serves to help digest food and remove waste from the body. When excess bile builds up in your dog’s stomach, it can become irritated and cause him to vomit a yellowish-green watery foam.



Why Does My Dog Chase His Tail?

  • He may have fleas. Dogs with flea infestations typically bite or chew the area at the base of their tail.
  • It is possible that his anal glands (sacs) are irritated. Anal glands are actually small pouches under your dog’s skin, near his anus. They secrete an unpleasant-smelling, fatty substance when your dog passes stool and can become impacted or infected.
  • He may be bored, and his tail serves as a mobile form of entertainment.
  • He may have been confined too long in a crate or cage.
  • He could have Canine Compulsive Disorder. Not unlike Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, found in humans, CCD occurs when a dog displays one or more compulsive and repetitive behaviors, over and over again, to the point where it interferes with its normal life and functioning.
  • It could just be in his genes. Heredity can play a role in tail chasing, and certain breeds such as german shepherds, Australian cattle dogs, bull terriers, and Doberman pinschers show a greater propensity for the behavior.


Why Does My Dog Have Cloudy Eyes?

While your dog ages, you may notice that his pupils take on a cloudy, grayish-blue appearance. Nuclear sclerosis, also known as lenticular sclerosis, is the most common cause of cloudy eyes in dogs over the age of six. It is a regular change experienced by dogs as they age and is characterized by a hardening and clouding over of the lens. It is painless, comes on gradually and affects both eyes equally so your dog should be able to adjust to any minor changes in his vision over time.

Other causes of hazy blue eyes can be more serious and require veterinary attention including:

  • Cataracts - clouding of the eye’s lense
  • Glaucoma - increased pressure in the eye due to fluid buildup
  • Corneal dystrophy - an inherited disorder which causes the abnormal deposit of substances on the cornea
  • Anterior Uveitis - inflammation in the iris and front of the eye


Why Does My Dog Roll in Poop?

While repulsive to humans, rolling in poop is actually a natural and very common behavior in dogs. Dog behaviorists theorize that they may do this because:

  • His wild instincts guide him to mask his scent so that he can better sneak up on his prey.
  • He doesn’t like the smell of the perfumes in his shampoo.
  • He may be trying to tell his “pack members” where he’s been and what he’s been up to.
Why does my dog roll in poop?

Why Does My Dog Rip Apart His Squeaky Toy?

Dogs enjoy playing with (and gutting) squeaky toys because it satisfies their natural hunting instincts. When a dog captures small animals in the wild, they vigorously shake them in order to kill them - and, small animals will make squeaking noises as they are being shaken. While savage to us, the primal hunter inside of your dog may like this sound. Dogs enjoy ripping apart and shaking their stuffed toys because it gives them a satisfaction similar to that of hunting and killing their prey. Many dogs will simply remove the squeaker before discarding the toy, while others enjoy “gutting” the entire thing and leaving the stuffing lying around on the floor.

Dog with glasses.

Why Does My Dog Have Pink Fur on His Face and Body?

Many breeds of white or light-haired dogs appear to be crying pink tears, have a brownish-stained beard, or reddish paws. Additionally, they may also have other such stains on their muzzle, or other parts of their body where their saliva comes into contact with their fur. Your dog’s tears and saliva contain porphyrins, organic compounds that make up many parts of his body, and these porphyrins can stain lighter-colored fur shades of pink, red, or brown.

A visit to your veterinarian may be warranted if your dog exhibits persistent or recurrent reddish spots on his knees, feet, hips as a result of continual biting or chewing.



Why Does My Dog Hump Things?

Mounting, thrusting, and humping are all normal behaviors exhibited by most dogs, both males and females alike. While this conduct can be sexual in nature, there are several reasons why your dog may try to mount you, another dog, his bed, the air, or a guest in your house.

  • It’s a reaction to stress or excitement. Many dogs resort to humping as a response to anxiety or new experiences such as meeting an unfamiliar person or dog, loud noises, or other overstimulating circumstances.
  • He’s trying to be playful. Some sexual behaviors such as mounting are considered normal play behaviors in dogs. Some canines, however, are not socialized well and can easily become overstimulated, trying to mount other dogs in playful situations.
  • He’s communicating dominance. Some dogs will often hump people and each other in an effort to assert their dominance or establish social status.


Why Does My Dog Lick My Feet?

  • He’s acknowledging you as his master. This common submissive behavior can be your dog’s way of ensuring his place in the family by recognizing the social order of your home.
  • You taste like food. Or perhaps you stepped in some. Regardless, the taste of salty sweat can prove to be irresistible to some dogs.
  • He might be stressed. Licking in general, specifically feet (yours or his), can be a form of self-soothing behavior.
  • He’s doing it for attention. Dogs lick their people as a sign of affection, and he may just be exhibiting signs of endearment or vying for your attention.
  • He’s reading your unspoken messages. Dogs have extremely sensitive scent receptors in their mouths that they use to gather information about their environment. It is possible that your dog is tasting your sweat in an attempt to “taste” your mood. Both our sweat and sebaceous glands (near the hair follicle) secrete a complex cocktail of salts and waste products that can help dogs understand our temperament or simply where we’ve been that day.


Why Does My Dog Follow Me Around?

He’s your biggest fan so he’s stalking you - or at least it may feel like it. Your dog lies on your feet, follows you to the bathroom, watches every move that you make. From the very beginning of their lives dogs instinctively follow their littermates around in search of food and adventure. Dogs are pack animals by nature, and even as adults they are hard-wired to stick with the members of their community, particularly the alphas who provide them with food, shelter, and affection. Whether you find it annoying or endearing to have a furry companion constantly underfoot, rest assured knowing that this is a sign of your dog’s loyalty and camaraderie.



Why Does My Dog Wink At Me?

He’s probably mimicking you. Research suggests that dogs automatically imitate humans1, even when it isn’t in their best interest to do so. This is the first evidence that dogs both voluntarily and spontaneously emulate people’s body language and behaviors.

Dog winking

Why Does My Dog Paw At Me?

He’s trying to get your attention. This is one of the most common ways that dogs are known for requesting the attention of their owners. When your dog paws at you, he is trying to direct your focus onto him. An occasional tap from your pup’s paw should not lead to any issues, however, if he learns that pawing at you will grant him what he demands - your attention - then you may have the beginnings of a behavioral problem on your hands.



Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?

While it is an undoubtedly disgusting behavior according to human standards, poop eating (coprophagia) is a fairly common behavior in the canine world. There are multiple possibilities why your dog may engage in such a seemingly revolting practice, but poop eating can be an indicator of certain health problems as well as environmental or emotional stressors and behavioral triggers.

He may have a medical issue such as:

  • Malabsorption problems
  • Malnourishment or nutrient deficiencies (typically vitamin B)
  • Parasites
  • Conditions that cause an increased appetite, including diabetes, Cushings, and thyroid problems
  • Certain medications such as steroids
  • Digestive enzyme deficiency
Pug eats poop, kisses everyone.

He may also be experiencing anxiety or behavioral triggers due to:

  • Confinement or restricted space
  • Isolation
  • Stress from housetraining - dogs often try to eliminate “evidence” of accidents
  • Seeking attention from you
  • Inappropriate food associations - if they are fed too close to where they are expected to go to the bathroom
  • Puppies may smell it on their mother’s breath (from cleaning) and learn that they should copy that behavior

It may also be helpful to know that poop-eating is most common in2:

  • Homes with multiple dogs
  • Female dogs (least common in unneutered males)
  • Overindulgent dogs known to steal food and overeat
  • Circumstances where fresh poop (1-2 days old) is available
  • Situations where another animal’s feces are available rather than their own


Why Does My Dog Scoot on the Carpet?

His backside probably itches for one of several reasons:

  • Anal gland (sac) irritation
  • Worms
  • Rectal prolapse - portion of the large intestine protrudes through the anus
  • Feces stuck in his fur - perhaps he needs a trim


Why Does My Dog Fake His Yawns?

Dog yawns can indicate more than just boredom. In fact, dogs use yawning as calming gesture to communicate several things:

  • They’ve had enough - time at a training session, waiting for you to move alone if you stop on their walk
  • He’s nervous - anticipation, perhaps, at the vet’s office
  • He’s sleepy - sometimes a yawn is just a yawn
Yawning dog

Why Does My Dog Spin in Circles Before Pooping?

A recent study, published in 2013, found that dogs prefer to eliminate with their body axis aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field3. The researchers discovered that dogs prefer the North-South axis and will spin in a circle until they align their bodies accordingly. While the study did show a definite preference for the North-South axis, and a clear avoidance of the East-West axis, researchers were unable to understand the reason why dogs use the Earth’s magnetic fields to determine where to eliminate.

However, in a more recent study that was published in 2016, researchers in Germany learned more about this special sense known as magnetoreception. They have found evidence that magnetoreception is also linked to the visual systems of dogs and other mammalian species—meaning that dogs (and certain other mammals) might actually have the capability of seeing these fields, not just sensing them for the purpose of relieving themselves.

The German researchers discovered a light-sensitive molecule called cryptochrome 14 in the eyes of dogs as well as in other mammals. They examined 90 different species of mammals and determined that cryptochrome 1 was present in the blue-sensitive cones of the eyes of dog-like carnivores such as dogs and wolves, bears, badgers, foxes, and even in some primates.

Cryptochrome 1 bears a striking resemblance to the cryptochrome 1a molecule which is present in migratory birds and gives them the ability to recognize magnetic fields. The research team concluded that the presence and location of the cryptochrome 1 molecule within the dogs’ retinas may provide them with the ability to recognize magnetic fields in much the same way.



Why Does My Dog Walk in a Circle Before Lying Down?

The most likely explanation for “hound winding” can be found buried deep inside of your dog’s undomesticated ancestors. Dogs don’t have soft pillows, beds, and blankets in the wild, thus they must make a bed for themselves in grass, leaves, etc. This simple act of walking in a circle before settling is how a dog would trample and flatten the ground to make a suitable “nest” for himself to sleep in.



Why Does My Dog Have Whiskers?

Whiskers (vibrissae) are more than just adorable features on your dog’s face - they actually help your dog navigate his way through his environment. They help him receive information about the outside world. Dogs explore their world with their snout, following their noses everywhere - into dark places and small spaces. The follicles at the base of each whisker are packed full of nerves that send sensory information to his brain. Dogs use their sensitive whiskers to sense vibrations in air currents and can use them to gather information about the speed, size, and even shape of a particular object.

According to Veterinary Research Communications, dogs use their whiskers for many different tactile tasks5 including finding food, hunting, dispersing pheromones. They also use them to communicate facial expressions, and maintaining head positions while swimming.



Why Does My Dog Have a Wet Nose?

Why does my dog have a wet nose?

  • “The better to smell you with, my dear” - a dog’s nose discharges a thin layer of mucus that helps absorb scents (odor molecules). A dog can then lick his noses and draw the molecules onto the roof of his mouth where sensitive olfactory (sniffing) glands process the scent before sending it to his brain for interpretation.
  • It helps keep him cool and regulate his body temperature. Dogs are covered in fur and they are unable to sweat through their skin like humans do, so their bodies are equipped to “sweat” through their noses and the pads of their paws.

Check out this facinating Ted-Ed video that describes exactly how your dog's super sniffer works:



Why Does My Dog Howl?

It all begins with their primal ancestry, but there are several reasons why dogs howl:

  • He’s responding to an environmental trigger such as a siren, which sounds strikingly like a dog’s howl, or a musical instrument
  • He’s alerting you to his location - dogs in the wild send out these vocal beacons to help members of their pack find their way back
  • He might be hurt - just as people cry, dogs may howl when they are in pain or distress
  • He wants you to know that he found something. Perhaps he treed a squirrel or is on the trail of a rabbit and wants to alert others of his position
  • He is stressed or wants attention
  • He is defending his territory and enforcing his physical boundaries
Why do dogs howl?

Why Does My Dog Snort Uncontrollably?

It comes out of nowhere - one minute your dog appears fine, the next he starts honking, snorting, and coughing, seemingly gasping for air. You have just witnessed your dog having an episode of reverse sneezing, also known as the pharyngeal gag reflex. These episodes are referred to as reverse sneezes because they are characterized by the dog inhaling air into his nostrils whereas regular sneezes involve blowing air out.

These attacks have a sudden onset and are often accompanied by loud, forceful inhalations and an outstretched neck. They can be caused by an irritation of the soft palate which then triggers the reflexive spasm of snorts. The spasm causes the airway to narrow and temporarily makes it more difficult for the dog to breathe in air.

Here is an example of a dog experiencing an episode of reverse sneezes:

Factors that may trigger reverse sneezing:

  • Allergies, including postnasal drip
  • Excitement
  • Throat irritation from pulling on a leash
  • Irritating household chemicals
  • Eating and drinking
  • Exercise
  • Viral infections
  • Respiratory mites
  • Foreign object stuck in the throat

While understandably alarming to humans, these episodes are typically harmless dogs. They usually last from a few seconds up to a minute and may be shortened by closing your dog’s nostrils or massaging his throat.

While reverse sneezes in most dogs is not a sign of a problem, it may be a sign of respiratory problems in brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, or King Charles Cavalier Spaniels. These dogs have a short, wide skull and appear to have a flat face and snout and may suffer from an elongated soft palate.

You should always check with your vet if you suspect your dog is experiencing breathing problems or respiratory distress of any kind.



Why Does My Dog Always Pant?

Panting refers to the shallow, rapid, slobbery, tongue-drooping breaths that dogs use to cool themselves off. Dogs do not sweat through their skin like humans do, therefore they regulate their body temperature by panting. Similar to sweating in people, saliva evaporates off of dogs’ tongues and from inside of the mouth allowing them to reduce their temperature. The rapid breaths also allow for better circulation of oxygen throughout the body.

Dogs breathe at an average rate of 30-40 breaths (inhalations and exhalations) per minute while resting and can achieve up to 300-400 breaths while panting. Normal panting occurs when dogs are hot from exercise or warmer temperatures. However, there are other reasons for excessive panting:

  • Overheating or heatstroke - higher body temperatures lead to heavier panting and dogs may show symptoms such as a body temperature of 109ºF or more, excessive thirst, dark red tongue or gums, and an elevated pulse and heart rate
  • Pain or discomfort associated with physical ailments
  • Anxiety, stress, or fear - referred to as “behavioral panting” and often linked to stressful or unfamiliar events and circumstances. Also present with other signs of anxiety such as pacing, whining, trembling, or yawning
  • Heart or lung disease - a diseased heart or congested lungs cannot efficiently deliver oxygen to the body. Therefore dogs will pant to increase respirations and compensate for the lack of oxygen in his tissues
  • Anemia - an abnormally small volume of red blood cells and insufficient hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying, red pigment that gives color to red blood cells) to carry oxygen throughout the body, thus leading to oxygen deprivation. Anemic dogs also tend to show signs of weakness, loss of appetite, pale gums, low energy, and mental confusion
  • Cushing’s Disease - an illness where the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol
  • Laryngeal paralysis - a condition in which the muscles and cartilage that open and close the larynx function abnormally causing restricted airflow, difficulty breathing, as well as raspy panting
Signs of heatstroke in dogs.

Why Does My Dog Eat Grass?

The last time you checked, your furry friend did not resemble some type of livestock!! So why, then, is he grazing in the yard like a cow?

dog eating grass

First, rest assured that it is not uncommon for dogs to eat grass. The term pica is used to describe behavior that involves eating things that are not food, however, this particular type of pica has been seen in all types of dogs, both wild and domesticated, and does not indicate any evidence of a problem. In fact, dogs can eat grass for a variety of reasons, most of which are completely normal.

  • Upset stomach - Many pet parents assume that their dog is eating grass to induce vomiting, but evidence suggests that more than 90% of dogs who eat grass are not unwell, to begin with, and less than 25% of the dogs that eat grass throw up. It is possible, however, that dogs eat grass because of gastric upset, as research shows that grass-eating does tend to facilitate vomiting6 in dogs who are already showing signs of illness.
  • Hunger - one particular study shows that dogs see grass as a food source7 and are more likely to eat grass when they have an empty stomach rather than after they have eaten their regular meals.
  • Purging intestinal worms - research conducted on wild wolf droppings finds evidence of grass in 11 to 47% of the stool samples studied, indicating that eating grass could help purge parasites from the animal’s intestines. As the grass passes through the intestinal tract, the fibrous matter causes intestinal contractions and wraps around the worms or nematodes which may be infecting the dog.7
  • It tastes delicious - while there is no evidence to support this claim when all other factors are considered and ruled out as possible reasons for your dog’s lawn-munching, it is possible that he could just like the way that it tastes.

Another common belief is that dogs eat grass because of nutritional deficiencies, however, no evidence has been found to support this claim. In fact, grass eating is just as common in dogs who have their diets supplemented with plant matter as those who are fed a carnivorous diet.

While most experts agree that eating grass isn’t harmful to dogs, keep in mind that that certain lawn pesticides and herbicides can be toxic to your pup. It is important to keep a watchful eye on your dog while he is munching on the grass, and always make sure that the plant life that he is eating is non-toxic and chemical-free.

Take a look at this SciShow episode explaining grass-eating behaviors in dogs:



References


1 Range, F., Huber, L., & Heyes, C. (2011). Automatic imitation in dogs. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 278(1703), 211-217.
Retrieved from http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/07/26/rspb.2010.1142

2 Boze, B. G. (2010). Correlates of coprophagy in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) as assessed by owner reports. Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behavior, 4(1).
Retrieved from http://ww.jamesoheare.com/vol4no1boze.pdf

3 Hart, V., Nováková, P., Malkemper, E. P., Begall, S., Hanzal, V., Ježek, M., ... & Červený, J. (2013). Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field. Frontiers in Zoology, 10(1),1.
Retrieved from http://frontiersinzoology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-9994-10-80

4 Nießner, C., Denzau, S., Malkemper, E. P., Gross, J. C., Burda, H., Winklhofer, M., & Peichl, L. (2016). Cryptochrome 1 in retinal cone photoreceptors suggests a novel functional role in mammals. Scientific reports, 6.
Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/articles/srep21848

5 Ahl, A. S. (1986). The role of vibrissae in behavior: a status review. Veterinary research communications, 10(1), 245-268. Chicago.
Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3526705

6 Sueda, K. L. C., Hart, B. L., & Cliff, K. D. (2008). Characterisation of plant eating in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 111(1), 120-132.
Retrieved from http://www.appliedanimalbehaviour.com/article/S0168-1591(07)00182-7/abstract

7 Bjone, S. J., Brown, W. Y., & Price, I. R. (2007). Grass eating patterns in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. Recent Adv Nutr Aust, 15, 45-49.
Retrieved from http://www.une.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/32446/bjone-brown-price-grass-eating20patterns-raan-2007.pdf

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