If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ve probably been mystified by their peculiar behaviour more than once. Dogs don’t think it’s all that weird though – they’re reacting instinctively to their environment using intuition that their ancestors passed onto them. If you’ve ever wanted to learn exactly what motivates dogs to behave the way they do, you’re in the right place! We’re here to explain the centuries-old animal instincts behind some common dog behaviours and debunk some misconceptions about our furry best friends.
Dogs bark for the same reasons that humans talk – to communicate. Whether they’re having a chat with their owners or other dogs or expressing their emotions, barking is a completely normal behaviour. It’s common for a dog to bark at something that startles or scares them, like an unfamiliar sound or a stranger knocking at the door. While barking is completely normal, barking for too long or repeatedly at the same trigger can be a problem. You can try to prevent the barking by first finding out exactly what they’re barking at, then associating the trigger with positive rewards like treats. Your dog also might be barking because it’s not getting enough stimulation. You can address this by taking them on longer walks or leaving them lots of chew toys, bones, and Kong-style food treats. If barking is still an issue for your pup, try investing in a few sessions with a professional dog trainer.
This is an easy one, right? We’ve always been taught that dogs wag their tails when they’re feeling happy. As it turns out, the explanation isn’t quite that simple. It’s true that happiness is one reason why dogs wag their tails, but this isn’t all a wagging tail can indicate. Sometimes, it’s because they’re feeling anxious, curious, or insecure. The speed of the wag and position and direction of the tail are indicators of how your dog is feeling. For example, a high wagging tail while in a comfortable environment probably indicates that your dog is feeling happy and excited. If your dog’s tail is wagging low or between its legs, it’s probably feeling a heightened level of anxiety. Big, wide wags tell you that your dog is happy, while smaller, faster wags indicate stress.
Interestingly, this behaviour all stems from the dog’s ancestor, the wolf. As both social and extremely territorial animals, early wolves needed to learn how to communicate their emotions to their pack mates. Early wolves needed to learn how to signal when it was content with the social order of the pack to avoid conflict with alpha wolves. Even after evolving into what we know today as the domesticated dog, this tail-wagging instinct has stayed with them, and they still use it to communicate with other dogs and their human families.
It’s a common misconception that panting is the canine equivalent of smiling. This isn’t actually true – usually, it’s a sign that your dog is feeling either hot and dehydrated or anxious and uncomfortable. If your dog is panting after a nice long walk or an intense game of fetch, it’s probably feeling hot and thirsty. Dogs don’t have sweat glands like people do, so panting is a way for them to lower their body temperature and increase the level of oxygen in their bloodstream. Find your dog some nice shade and make sure they have a big drink of water, and you’ll have a happy (and probably a little sleepy) dog in no time. On the other hand, if you are in an unfamiliar environment or separated from one of your dog’s favorite people, panting is probably indicating that your dog is experiencing anxiety. If this is the case, it’s best to remove the dog from the stressful situation. In the long term, associate the scary situation with positive rewards to keep your dog calm.
Picture this: you’ve just arrived home from work and found your lounge torn to pieces or your favorite shirt in tatters, and a very guilty-looking dog looking up at you… Sound familiar? If your dog is destroying your prized possessions, it’s a sign that it’s not getting enough stimulation. By taking your dog for longer, more frequent walks, providing food toys, and playing plenty of fun games with them while you’re at home, you’ll reduce the risk of coming home to torn up furniture. This is especially important if you leave your dog home alone for long periods. Keeping your dog happy will keep you (and your possessions!) happy, too.
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