Merrick Pet Foods recently conducted a contest via Facebook, asking readers to ask me: “Why does my dog …?” The first 20 responders received a copy of “Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27). The book was written by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and co-edited by myself, and veterinary behaviorists Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi.
Here are some of those questions, just the sort of queries we answered in “Decoding Your Dog”:
Q: Why does my dog sit like a goofball? – C.P., Cyberspace
A: I’m not sure what position you’re describing, but it could be your pooch was previously rewarded for the goofy behavior – even with a giggle – reinforcing the habit. The oddball way the dog sits might also be comfortable. Sometimes dogs do imitate us, so maybe your pet is attempting to sit like you!
Q: Why does my dog always walk up to me and poke me in the eye with her nose? – K.M., Cyberspace
A: Are you a dog? I’m sure you’ve watched dogs greeting one another, extending their noses first. The habit isn’t too different, I suppose, from people who greet each other with a hug or handshake.
But why is your dog saying “hi” to your eye? Perhaps she did this once and you laughed, reinforcing the behavior. If this bothers you, you could simply not allow it, for example, by looking the other way when you dog goes to poke you in the eye.
Q: Why does my dog roll around in cat feces when she finds it in our backyard? – C.R., Cyberspace
A: For the same reason we dab perfume or cologne on ourselves. Many dogs find this as repugnant as we find their habit of rolling in cat or deer droppings, dead fish, or the carcasses of dead critters in the woods. I suppose you can chalk this up to a cultural difference.
Q: Why does my dog cock his head when I talk to him? – S.B., Cyberspace
A: No one really knows, but one thought is that we train dogs to do this. They cock their heads just a tad as puppies, and our tone of voice changes instantly because the behavior is so darn cute.
That tone is rewarding, and over time we train them, bit by bit, to cock their heads in a more noticeable way, like the famous RCA pooch.
Since that head cock has been charming humans for centuries, perhaps the behavior is now hard-wired into many dogs, which is my belief.
Another possibility: Dogs are trying hard to figure out what the heck we’re saying to them, and in the process, cock their heads. Interestingly, this theory is supported by my wife’s similar confused response when I talk!
Q: Why does my dog drag her bottom on the carpet? – L.P., Cyberspace
A: Impacted anal sacs are the most likely cause. Veterinarians have told me they suspect this problem feels like walking around with a bag of marbles stuck up your rear. No wonder they rub. See your veterinarian.
If your pup is obese or overweight, she may be having trouble reaching back there to clean. I’ll say no more, except that I suggest you clean your carpet.
There are other possibilities, depending on what that dragging motion looks like, which is another reason to see your vet.
Q: Why does my dog snatch dog treats out of my hand and run off with them? It’s like he’d rather eat them in private. – C.C., Cyberspace
A: If your dog runs off and chomps on the treats in private, neither you nor another dog can take them away. Dogs are hard-wired to eat as their ancestors did in secluded spots where other animals can’t snatch their food away.