Nov 12 2013

Common Dog Behaviours DeMystified

Common Dog Behaviours DeMystified

Dogs sometimes do things that are peculiar and difficult to understand. Communication begins with understanding. If you want to build a better relationship with your dog, you can start by working to understand the meaning and causes behind some of her most common dog behaviors.

Common Dog Behaviours and What They Mean


Because dogs sweat through the pads on their feet, most of their body heat is expelled through their mouth when they pant. It’s their primary means of regulating body temperature. Dogs who are old or sick may pant more as an expression of dysfunction.

Dog Barking

In nature, dogs bark to raise an alarm at the first signs of possible danger or to herald a new arrival. Barking is an important means of canine communication. It ultimately is making a statement about someone or something in the environment and asks the question “are you friend or are you foe”.


"just because I act out sometimes, doesn't mean I'm weird or mean"

“just because I act out sometimes, doesn’t mean I’m weird or mean”

Just as a growing child, your dog will want to chew on toys and other objects to relieve the pain of a new set of teeth coming in. If your dog is full grown, you may also come home to find your couch cushions or favorite pair of shoes ripped to shreds, but it is not because they enjoy the taste or are having dental issues. Your dog could be exhibiting signs of separation anxiety or anxiety in general. There are ways to promote healthy, normal chewing behaviour and discourage abnormal behaviour. And there are ways to mitigate the anxiety experienced by separation from “alpha dog” (you).


Digging is an instinctual activity, written deep in a dog’s DNA. It is especially strong in terrier breeds. Dogs in natural packs will dig to hide food or to uncover food such as small rodents. A den dug in the cool earth can also provide shelter from the heat. Excessive digging may be an expression of a “maladaptive” behaviour (ie. Dogs that are exceedingly bored such as those tethered or chained for extensive periods).

Jumping up

Though it may seem like play behavior, or an enthusiastic greeting, jumping up is a sign that your dog is attempting to assert her dominance over you. They are saying “I want to look you in the eye or look down on you so you know who is boss”. In some cases this also allows the dog to express this dominance behaviour in trying to smell your breath to see if you have been eating and if so, what you have been eating. By encouraging jumping up with affection, you are reinforcing the behavior. This disrespectful behaviour can be stopped.

Dog Biting

A dog will bite a person as a way of communicating their current state of mind. The dog could be reacting in aggression, fear or nervousness/anxiety. Ways of preventing these potentially very damaging and possibly life threatening events, you must learn to read a dog’s body language. There are very distinct messages that a dog conveys clearly with body language prior to ever biting. Know these and you will understand the dog’s state of mind and the possibility of an impending bite.

Separation anxiety

Common results following a separation anxiety episode

Common results following a separation anxiety episode

Dogs live and travel in packs, so it’s natural for them to feel anxious when they are separated from their mates. In the modern home with a domestic dog, we human companions become the pack. We are, in fact the most important part; the dominanct or Alpha members. So when we leave the house, your dog is left behind as a subordinate pack member without the security that the Alpha provides. Nerve-wracking to say the least. Often times this nervous anxiety is expressed with outward destructiveness, self-destructiveness, excess vocalization or depression. Try taking your dog on a nice, long walk before leaving her alone in the house. Leaving her in resting mode can calm her anxiety. In some cases excessively anxious individuals may require medication to control the behaviours.

Once you understand these behaviors, you’ll be better equipped to recognize when your pack’s needs are not being met! When your dog’s needs go unfulfilled, unwanted behaviors begin to emerge. If things are out of control in your home, consider consulting with us on how to best manage and normalize these behaviours.

Posted by: Dr. Mark Steinebach


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