News alert: your dog is not human – it's a dog. This is not as obvious a statement as it seems, since many dog owners treat their pets as just another member of the family. Dogs react on instinct, when untrained, and we forget that they have very wild ancestors.
There are good reasons for the really weird things your dog does, like roll in the mud and eat out of the dustbin. Here are the answers to eight questions about strange dog behaviour:
Q: Why does my dog drink out of the toilet?
A: Dogs don't know what toilets are for, or what you're doing when you sit down on one. For them, the toilet is an amazing natural fountain with a never-ending supply of cool, clean water. Not only does the repeated flushing keep the water fresh, but the greater oxygenation might also make the water “taste better”, as does the material of the toilet bowl itself: porcelain doesn’t alter the taste of water like plastic or metal can. But experts still reckon it’s best to keep the lid down – drinking toilet water can lead to the ingestion of bacteria or of harmful cleaning chemicals.
Q: Why do dogs love to roll in smelly stuff?
A: Quite simply, dogs have a different idea to us of what smells good, and rolling in something stinky is the canine equivalent to dousing yourself in perfume. When presented with a lovely pile of manure, they want to get as close to the smell as possible. But the habit is also evolutionary and instinctual: dogs were once hunters who had to sneak up on their prey, and could do this best by smelling as unlike a dog as possible.
Q: Why do dogs chase cats?
A: Many dogs are perfectly comfortable with, and even affectionate towards, the cats they know, and many others would just as happily chase a cat as a plastic bag. But for dogs who like to hunt, a cat represents the same thing as a squirrel or a bird or a rabbit: dinner. Though some dogs can never be trusted around their feline counterparts, most others can be socialised by exposure to cats at a young age. As an aside, the top speed of cats is 48km/h – that of dogs, 47km/h. Which might be why we still have cats.
Q: When you hit just the right spot on a dog’s tummy/side/rump, why does he pump his leg?
A: It’s an ancient, irrepressible, anti-pest reflex that dogs just can’t control. Your dog’s nerve endings read a crawling flea the same way as a scratching fingernail: they’re both skin irritations, and the dog is hardwired to bring a leg up to scratch them off. Even though your dog knows it’s you doing the scratching and not a flea, he can’t make the leg stay still: it’s an automatic reflex reaction that’s so predictable that vets even use it as a test during neurological exams.
Q: Why do some dogs hump their toys?
A: Mostly because it feels good, but also just because they can. It’s pretty normal behaviour, especially amongst adolescent males, simply because they feel a need to satisfy their sex drive, and rubbing up against something causes a pleasurable sensation. In many cases, neutering can temper this behaviour, but there’s no guarantee. If your dog seems really obsessed with his genitals, consider taking him to a vet for a check-up: there’s a small possibility of a medical problem.
Q: Why do dogs eat grass?
A: No one knows for sure, but there are two main theories. The first is that grass is a good source of fibre and chlorophyll and helps digestion. The second is evolutionary: if a dog ate something offensive it would feel nauseous, then eat some grass so it would get tangled up with the bad stuff (thus irritating the stomach lining) and cause the dog to throw up. So today, even if they haven’t eaten something bad, dogs might just instinctively eat grass when they feel nauseous.
Q: Why does my dog hate the postman?
A: It’s perfectly normal for dogs to bark at the approach of a stranger, and when the stranger leaves, the dog believes he has successfully frightened him off. If the stranger returns, as postmen routinely do, the dog barks even more aggressively to be sure that this time the offender leaves for good. Over time, this routine aggression becomes more and more intense. It’s simple conditioning: your dog learns this hostility through repetition, the same way he learns commands.
Q: Does a wagging tail mean a friendly dog?
A: Not necessarily! Always be sure to look at the whole dog to check for aggression. If the dog is relaxed and smiling it’s more likely to be friendly than a nervous-looking, tense or skittish dog , even if both are wagging their tails. Be on the lookout for a dog with hackles raised with its eyes focused in a hard stare: here, a wagging tail does not mean “I’m friendly”. It’s best to check with the owner first before petting any strange dog.
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