Odd Behaviors in Dogs

by Barbara Murray
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One question that veterinarians get asked frequently from pet owners is why does my dog fill in the blank with an odd behavior, or what we humans consider odd anyway. Just like people, our pets often display odd or what we would call eccentric behaviors. For example, one of my dogs several years ago required a human to sing to her before she would come into the house. Following a potty or exercise run outside, she would start in and then it's like she remembered no one was singing and she'd stop, turn around and go back out into the yard or to the edge of the deck and wait patiently. As soon as I would start singing, a silly little ditty I made up that included her name, she'd lope inside appearing happy and content with the world.

Sweet puppy with a chew toyOver the years and in my new business, I've met many animals that have some sort of eccentric or quirky habits. But, I must remember that's my judgment from the outside looking in. I assume for the animal it's perfectly normal.

One of my furry clients that I've watched several times in the past few months exhibits what some people might call an "odd behavior." He's a dog and I won't put his name here but I call him my little whirling dervish when it's potty time.

Before he can "go potty," he must first spin around and around and around in a tight circle. Watching him will make you dizzy.

Once he relieves himself, he walks like any other dog out for a stroll. That, I suppose, some pet owners would definitely call "odd." But to me, that just something he needs to do. It harms nothing or no one and it's absolutely cute and funny in my opinion.

Some odd pet behaviors, I find hilariously funny. Some are not humorous at all. I'm thinking specifically about those resulting from physiological and mental health problems. Yep, our pets, just like humans, suffer from physical and mental disorders, some of which are outwardly displayed as odd behaviors. Unfortunately, dogs can suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders that destroy quality of life.

Back to the questions pet owners ask veterinarians - the number one concern about odd behaviors is "Why does my dog eat grass?" This, I had to research to learn the facts.

What I learned is that experts think there are several reasons dogs eat grass.

  • First, the dog is simply seeking a new food source, according to PetMD. Grass is conveniently all around for many dogs, thus they nibble.
  • Second, it is believed that when a dog has an upset stomach or excessive gas, eating grass is a natural way to vomit and remedy the situation. Often dogs trying to relieve a stomach ailment will eat grass in large quantities and faster than when just nibbling for roughage.
  • Third, experts believe because grass contains essential nutrients needed in the dog's diet, the animal may crave a grass salad, so to speak.

It's important for pet owners to know that eating grass in small quantities does not hurt your dog, but may actually be good for your pet. I'm sure that's the main concern behind the questions to the vet, fearing that this odd behavior will cause harm.

As I've learned, some "odd behaviors," or at least what humans classify as odd, may in fact simply be the animal acting wisely for his or her long-term health.

Another similar question vets are often asked about odd behaviors is "Why does my dog eat poop?" The scientific name for this behavior is coprophagia.

Researchers have found multiple reasons for this definitely odd behavior.

  • The dog could be suffering from a health problem. Health conditions like diabetes and thyroid disease, among others, can cause your pet to experience a sharp increase in appetite. In this situation, the poop is considered extra food for the dog. In addition, when a dog's pancreas does not produce enough insulin, he or she may be prompted by instinct to search out enzymes. Poop is a source.
  • If your dog is suffering from a nutrient deficiency, eating poop is one way the dog can replenish these nutrients. (Yep, poop does contain nutrients, I discovered.)
  • Third, dogs that come from crowded horrible conditions may eat poop as a reactive response to thinking they must get food when and where they can. This happens with dogs from puppy mills and overcrowded kennels.
  • Fourth, puppies that see an older dog eating poop may pick up the behavior trying to be like the big dog. Therefore, if you have an older dog that does this and bring a puppy into the household, it's good to be aware of the situation.

Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, writing for Mercola Healthy Pets offers several tips on how to get your dog to stop eating poop if this is an ongoing problem.

Odd behaviors do often involve food of some sort and I suppose the food that our pets enjoy varies from animal to animal just as it does with humans. I remember when I was a kid, we had a dog named Ben that loved ripe tomatoes. Not too odd, except Ben would go to the garden and pick the ripe tomatoes from the vine. Mom and Dad weren't too happy with that.

The oddest behavior that goes on at my house these days doesn't involve food consumption of any sort. It happens when my pup Dylan plays with his best buddy, Dawg, one of the semi-feral cats that hang around my house. This is a story by itself that I'll share at a future date.

My "oddest" animal overall is Tripper. You can read his story here.

What sort of odd behaviors in pets do you know about that you would be willing to share with my readers? I'd like to hear them. Meet me on my Facebook page.