What’s going on in my dog’s head? Ways to tell what your pet is thinking

  • A vet gives us tips on how to understand your puppy’s behaviour, from circling to nose boops
  • Why is Tofu digging when he’s inside? And what is he howling at, anyways?
Doris Wai |

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Here's a guide to figuring out what your fluffy friend is saying.

Have you ever looked at your pet and wondered, “Just what is going on in that brain of yours?” Young Post gets the pawriffic low-down from vets and animal experts to help you understand your furry friend’s behaviour and what it’s really thinking about.

This week, we’re reading the minds of our dogs, who are highly communicative and curious creatures.

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It can be normal for dogs to walk around in circles just before getting ready to poop or pee. For some dogs, this can be a sign of compulsive behaviour if they keep circling even after you provide a different activity, such as a walk or a game. In these cases, they may need behavioural training and changes in their environment and routine to reduce stress and anxiety.


When this happens indoors and on their favourite bed or resting area, it indicates they are trying to get comfortable or settle down. If it occurs outdoors – for example in the yard or garden – your dog could be burying or digging up a prized item, or trying to tunnel under a fence or barrier if something on the other side has caught its attention. It might also be trying to catch burrowing animals or insects who live in your yard – keep in mind that some dogs like snacking on bugs, but crickets, cockroaches, and caterpillars are just a few of the insects that are not safe for dogs to eat.

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Coprophagia (also known as eating poop)

Mother dogs will eat their puppies’ poop while cleaning them, so coprophagia is actually a common behaviour for puppies as they’ve observed their mum doing so. But in adult dogs, this can be due to not being able to absorb enough nutrients from their food; medical conditions that increase appetite, such as diabetes(yes, it can happen to dogs, too); or medications that increase appetite, such as steroids. It’s safe for dogs to eat their own poop, but keep them away from the poop of other animals, which can be toxic.

Sitting between your legs

Some dogs that have anxiety, get easily excited, or feel less confident will exhibit this behaviour to seek comfort by stayingbetween their owner’s legs for protection. Sitting between legs may also be a way of avoiding other pets or people who are more high energy than what the pet can usually deal with.

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Dogs will yawn when they are feeling anxious or are in a stressful situation. Also, a more passive dog may yawn in response to a more aggressive dog to break up the potential conflict. On the other hand, “contagious yawning” is when dogs yawn in response to the yawns of humans or other dogs, and it is considered a sign of empathy, not a sign of stress.


Dogs will howl for attention, to alert others of danger, or to make contact and acknowledge other dogs. However, if the howling occurs after their human has left the home, then it could be a sign of separation anxiety.

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Sniffing the air

This is generally an investigative behaviour, where dogs are trying to find the source of a smell and gather information about the environment. But if sniffing the air is coupled with other behaviours such as pacing, yawning or lip-licking, this may instead indicate nervousness and stress.

Showing puppy eyes

Dogs can produce more facial movements when they are being watched, and using puppy eyes is a form of communication: dogs will widen their eyes to look more cute and even infant-like, as a way to get what they want (food, attention).

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Nose boop

When dogs touch their noses to someone or something, this can be a way of soliciting attention or showing submission. But if the nudge is coupled with barking or mounting, then it is a sign of dominance.

Answers by Dr Kris Koh, veterinary surgeon at Vet Affinity, Singapore

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