Making sense of the bizarre world of canines

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am


If you think your pet behaves in bizarre ways, veterinarian Hugh Stanley, of Dr Hugh's Veterinary Hospital in Tin Hau, helps explain the reasons behind some of canines' most puzzling behaviour.


When it's time to go for 'number 2', have you noticed that many dogs turn in a circle before crouching down? Stanley explains: 'It's a behaviour to mark their territory. They are selecting the best spot to leave a marker for other dogs.'

Another explanation for the circling harks back to their days in the wild. Before crouching or laying down, dogs would check the area for potential harm, such as sharp sticks poking out from the ground, dangerous animals or snakes.


For dogs in the mood for love, owners may sometimes be the object of their desire. Without warning, you are playing with your dog, then suddenly it jumps on to your leg.

'Leg humping is an abhorrent behaviour that can be a sexual, dominant or a learned behaviour for the dog to get attention. And a dog likes nothing more than getting attention,' Stanley says.

In terms of dominant behaviour, Stanley says dogs are pack animals that exist within a hierarchy. The family becomes the pack and the dog recognises itself as part of the family.

A power-tripping pooch will try to dominate a family member through humping. Stanley adds many puppies learn this behaviour to gain attention.

To stop your dog from this kind of behaviour, the veterinarian suggests owners ignore it. 'Try not to shirk or push the dog away,' Stanley says. 'It will just recognise this as attention. I know it's sometimes difficult to ignore a dog that is humping your leg. But if the reason is dominance, then take steps to assert your dominance. I'm not saying to beat it, but to give your dog a command first, and then to reward it.'

Another method to halt leg humping is to have a family member distract the frisky Fido. 'With any unwanted behaviour, try to get someone to call the dog and distract it, like rattling a bowl, which directly interrupts and stops the behaviour,' Stanley says.

According to Stanley, other ways to assert dominance and show you are the leader of the pack is by going out of the house first instead of the dog, and not to allow your furry friend to sit on the sofa, which would give them the assumption they are in a dominant position.


Most people greet each other with a simple smile, 'hello' or handshake. Dogs are more intimate. They instinctively greet their fellow canine with a good sniff of the behind.

So, what makes a dog's bottom so attractive? Stanley says a dog's anus has two scent glands that secrete a fluid onto the faeces. This fluid is the dog's signature scent that tells other dogs its gender, health, diet and what kind of mood it is in.


Some owners love having their dog lick their face, others hate it. But what does it really mean? 'Most behaviour towards humans is modified dog behaviour,' Stanley explains.

'It's a complex interaction that comes from dogs grooming each other in the pack. It's a sign of non-aggression and affection.'

The veterinarian adds non-dominant dogs will lick dominant dogs, 'but not all the time'.


A dog wagging its tail is a show of happiness, right? Not always. 'Like any other species, dogs have a range of body language,' Stanley says. 'Wagging its tail is generally a sign of happiness, but it can also mean dominance.'

Different characteristics of the wagging tail can indicate a range of moods.

Whether the tail is held high or low; the speed of the wag; and the swinging gesture - big, sweeping motions or short, quick wags, can reflect everything from happiness and submission to dominance and aggression.


'Eating faeces is more of a puppy thing. A puppy will chew on anything - food, plastic and its own faeces,' Stanley says. 'But as they grow older and wiser, they will stop doing it.' He adds that an older dog doing the same thing might be indicative of other health problems.

The condition is called coprophagia, which is a habitual and behavioural problem. Many mothers are known to do this as a way to keep the nest and litter clean.

From an evolutionary viewpoint, before domestication, dogs were scavengers that survived by eating food scraps and waste discarded by other animals.