“What’s Up With That?” 10 Common Dog Behaviors Explained

yawning dog

Have you ever seen a dog yawn around a stranger? Lick his lips at the vet’s office? What about that weird fire hydrant obsession? All of these are common dog behavior that many of us may think odd, but each has a simple explanation.

Here are the top 10 strange things you may have seen your dog do and what they mean:

  1. Yawning: If you’ve ever been around a dog and caught them yawning, that’s not a sign that they didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Yawning in dogs has nothing to do with being tired—it’s actually a sign of stress. Dogs may yawn when they’re in a stressful situation, uneasy around someone new, or are placed in a tense or unfamiliar environment.
  2. Circling or chasing their tail: You may have laughed at one of the many YouTube videos where dog owners catch their dog circling over and over in a comical and entertaining fashion, but it’s not all fun and games. Circling behaviors should not be encouraged—if left untreated, this behavior can develop into a compulsive disorder.
  3. Curved body, sniffing tails: Dogs have many ways of interacting with humans, but they also use universal body language for communicating with other dogs. Circling with another pooch, curving their body inward, and wiggling while sniffing tails is a sign of a mutual friendly greeting. They may also initiate a playful greeting by bowing.
  4. Scooting on the floor: If you catch your dog dragging their bottom across the floor, this may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Allergies, worms, full or impacted anal glands, or some other source of discomfort could be causing your dog to seek relief in this way. Check with your veterinarian to get to the root of the problem.
  5. Digging: Dogs dig for many reasons—if they’re outside, they could be digging to escape, to track another animal, or to hide something of value. Sometimes, though, dogs will bring this behavior indoors, digging on carpet, rugs, or sheets. Digging habits can be annoying or destructive, but they aren’t inherently “bad.” Keep this behavior in check by discouraging constant digging and giving your pup an alternative activity or toy on which they can release their energy.
  6. Head pressing: If you ever catch a dog pressing their head against a wall or other hard object, don’t ignore it. Head pressing can be a sign of a serious medical condition, and requires immediate attention. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine if your dog is experiencing head pains or brain trauma that could be causing this strange behavior.
  7. Eating feces: Yes; it sounds gross, but eating feces is a totally normal behavior for some dogs! Dogs are natural scavengers, and feces are a source of protein. Dogs who do this may also just be curious, or may be mimicking behaviors they learned as a pup from their mother. The only cause for concern is if your pup isn’t receiving adequate nutrition—malnutrition or nutritional deficiencies may cause some dogs to eat their waste. Ensure they’re eating a well-balanced diet to rule out this possibility.
  8. Bowing: When a dog bows to you in a loose, playful manner, it’s time to play! He or she is begging for your attention, and is waiting for you to crouch back or grab a tennis ball.
  9. Licking: No, your dog isn’t licking his lips because they’re chapped—dogs will perform lip licking as an appeasement gesture. When a dog licks their lips and averts their eyes, it is usually a sign of being uncomfortable and stressed about their current environment. They are trying to soothe themselves and whoever else is in the immediate area, and to assure others that they are not a threat.
  10. Fire hydrant obsession: We always see cartoon dogs near fire hydrants doing their business, but this “obsession” is actually something of a myth—fire hydrants aren’t especially appealing to dogs, they just happen to be at the perfect height for your dog to lift his leg! If he sniffs before lifting, however, then it’s likely that another dog has been there before.