The Star-Herald

Dog behaviors

Many dog owners will testify that their dogs understand them better than anyone else.  They seem to know when we’re sad, when we need them to stay close by, when our energies are high — and when they’re at their lowest.  

But how many dog owners can say they truly understand their dogs’ behavior, too?  Sure, we know that when a dog wags its tail, it means it’s happy — but do we really know why?  And what about all that hole digging and sniffing of behinds?  If you’ve ever wondered about your dog’s strange behavior, prepare to wonder no more.  

Here are a few canine tidbits that help to reveal the deepest secrets of the doggy psyche.

Why dogs chase their tails. Dogs do all sorts of things that we consider funny or amusing, but there’s nothing quite as fun as watching your dog chase its tail. But why do they do this in the first place?  Often, puppies don’t realize that their tail is actually a part of their body, and treat it more like a toy. But as they grow up, they come to realize that it is, in fact, an appendage. One common reason for tail chasing is simply the fact that dogs seem to get positive reactions when they do it, and so continue in an attempt to make their humans happy.

Why dogs stick their heads out of car windows. Ever wonder what’s so great about wind blowing in your face, anyway? You see, if most people’s primary sense is sight, most dogs perceive the world through smell. While the human olfactory membranes are roughly the size of a postage stamp, an average dog’s are as large as a handkerchief — and when they stick their head out of a moving car’s window, all that air rushing into their nose allows them to smell the world around them.

Dog memories. Dogs aren’t able to reflect or ponder in time. They live in the present, and don’t think about anything that’s happened to them, until they encounter a similar situation again. If they went to the beach and loved it, they won’t sit around all day thinking about the lake, but when they get to the lake again, they’ll recognize it as a place they enjoy.

Why dogs sit on top of your toes.  Ever notice how your dog sometimes likes to plop themselves down right on top of your toes?  They might sit down just when you’re about to get up or walk and inadvertently make you stumble, or just get your nice, new white shoes full of fur. The real reason for this behavior is your dog’s desire to feel close, but also, to protect you. With their body touching yours, they can sense whether you’re calm or tensing up, and that lets them keep track of both whatever’s going on with you as well as with their surroundings.

The joy of training. Many dog owners are often concerned that putting their dogs through training might be a traumatic experience for them; but when training is done right, it can actually provide dogs with structure and routine that actually make them really happy. It helps dogs make more sense of the world around them, essentially explaining what’s “good” and what’s “bad” in a way that they can understand.

The look of love. We all know the expression, “puppy dog eyes.” It’s when people give you those eyes that just look incredibly cute and sweet, and you can’t help but give in to whatever the person is asking you for. It’s impossible. But actually, when a dog gives you those puppy dog eyes, it’s not necessarily because they want something from you or are trying to be charming. It’s simply their way of showing you that they love you. 

More useful tips can be found at  Please remember to be responsible: spay and neuter your pets.

Gloria J. Towle is the secretary of the Central Aroostook Humane Society board of directors.

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