Dog behaviors seem obvious, but most dog lovers already know a lot about dog behavior. But even for longtime dog lovers, you might feel puzzled or frustrated by some of the weird things dogs do. And dog behavior might be on your mind, wondering what’s normal—and why dogs do what they do. That can help enormously with dog training and solving problem dog behaviors.
I’ve worked with countless pet lovers with questions just like yours. After decades in the industry, studying canine behavior and also interviewing hundreds of veterinary professionals, I’ve learned a boatload about dog training and canine behavior. And there’s some stuff I think all dog lovers should know!
Dog Talk in Dog Behaviors
Barks often target humans because dogs know we rely on verbal communication. But dogs also bark at other dogs, and some dog breeds like Beagles naturally bark more, to tell hunters their location while chasing that bunny. Barks may signal conflicting emotions: “I like you, but I’m not sure…” or “I want to play…but I shouldn’t.” Dogs use barks as requests—or demands—for attention, for food, for a door to open up. They also bark as an alarm to warn their family of intruders (squirrel!) or of anything interesting. Other vocalizations like growls, snarls, whines, and howls, express emotion, state of mind, and warnings.
But body language figures most prominently in dog behavior communication, and we can easily learn to understand what that tail talk, fluffed fur, or erect vs crouched posture means. Dogs talk to us all the time, and they also “read” our human body language. Sometimes we “say” things we don’t realize, but the dog always understands! So when you tell your dog “no” but laugh and grin, he recognizes you’re not serious.
Yes, we share some of the same senses with dogs, but our canine friends have great sensory abilities that we can’t match. Humans rely on vision for a lot of our sensory exploration of the world. Smells also matter (stinky stuff vs. perfume). And for sure, all the barking noise drives us batty. But dog behaviors also consider this:
- Dogs don’t focus well on near objects, one reason they can’t find that last tasty morsel in the food bowl, or why you wearing a hat confuses dogs. But otherwise, they see about the same as we do, with one interesting difference: The eyes of longer-nosed dogs include a high density line of vision cells across the retina so they see 320-degrees (but vision blurs above and below the strip). That gives long-nosed dogs like sight hounds the ability to see movement out of the corners of their eyes. But short-faced dogs like Pekingese instead have a centrally located area of vision cells with three times the density of nerve endings compared to their long-nosed buddies. That lets them better see at higher definition, read your facial expression, and even watch TV.
- Dogs hear the same low tones as people do. We can detect sounds about 20,000 cycles per second. But dogs can hear much higher frequencies up to 100,000 cycles per second.
- People have about 5 to 20 million scent cells in our noses. Yes, we can smell stinky stuff the dog rolled on. But dogs have between 12.5 to 300 million scent cells! The longer the nose, the greater the sniff ability.
Canine Behavior & Dog Sociability
Do you have more than one dog? Or maybe a combo dog-cat home? Many dogs enjoy companionship with other pets and usually get along well when properly introduced. Canines establish a pretty linear social heirarchy with a “top dog” and others falling in rank below. Top and bottom canines in the ranking have the easiest time of it, because everyone else either falls below them or higher in status. But middle-management dogs may argue trying to find their place in the family group.
Top dogs don’t have to act mean. Everyone knows which dog rules, and the other dogs in the family actively offer deference with appeasement gestures (low wags, licking faces, and more) to keep the harmony. Intact healthy dogs tend to rank highest, and neutering all the dogs helps level the social score. Boy and girl dogs also have a few differences in how they deal with social standing.
I love helping dog lovers understand canine behavior to build an even closer bond with their pet dogs. That’s why I became a certified animal behavior consultant, and write books to offer insight and guidance. If you’re interested in learning more about dog behavior, (whether you have one dog or many) you can get lots of information in my book ComPETability: Solving behavior problems in your multi-DOG household.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!