Ever look down at your faithful pup and wonder what in the world was happening inside their brain? Ever watch a dog do something particularly odd and think “why would they do that of all things?” My dog has a frequent habit of rolling like a pony; feet flopping, belly up, wriggling around in the sand/grass/dirt. It has always fascinated me. Does she choose the rolling spot for a reason? Does this mean she’s happy? Is there something smelly there to roll in?? This is one of many examples of odd dog behavior to discuss, a topic that could fill many pages, and I would bet that as you are reading this you are thinking of odd things your own dog does. Perhaps he or she is doing something funny right now! Mine is staring at me as I type, her deep brown eyes wide and absorbing.
In our society and culture today, humanizing animals is impossible to avoid, and dogs play right along. We look at behaviors and attach human qualities or emotions to them. My favorite example of this is the “guilty” dog. Dogs have no sense of morals that science can prove, nor any sense of what is right and what is wrong, but dogs are master imitators and have developed into some of the best “anthropologists of humankind” (Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog). While we attach human qualities and abilities to our companions, they are very, very different from us in many ways.
THE NOSE KNOWS
Ever sit and watch your dog as you take him out in the morning? While every dog has a different routine, almost every dog’s nose immediately goes to the ground. Everything must be sniffed! New dog at the dog park? Butts will be thoroughly checked out by those snuffling wet snouts. Ever return from visiting another dog? Your pup may spend as long as you allow him or her to thoroughly sniff you over to discover all of the olfactory messages you carry. A dog’s sense of smell is equivalent in power to us amplifying our eyes with a telescope; their sense of smell is 10,000-100,000 times more powerful and sensitive than our own (Peter Tyson, Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell). Imagine looking at the most beautiful mosaic you have ever seen. Each tile may be a slightly different color, shape, position, and together they form an intricate and beautiful image to be deciphered by your incredible eyes; a dog’s nose works in a similar manner, except instead of individual tiles, they can determine very specific and individual odors. This amazing sense of smell is the reason behind many of the crazy things that dogs do.
Dogs each carry a unique scent profile, and we humans do as well. Your doggo can recognize you from a distance based almost entirely on smell. Some dogs can track people that have been missing for days based on the scent of that individual (Horowitz, pp 84-88). One great example of how different dogs are and how they are driven by their noses is to watch your dog meet other dogs at the dog park. There are no paw shakes, usually those snoots go straight to the butts. Each dog holds a unique scent profile within the pea-sized glands within their booties. Within those glands is a smelly name tag.
ROLLING AROUND IN…EVERYTHING
Ever give your dog a bath and watch as he zooms around the house rubbing himself on anything and everything in sight? Or perhaps you have a dog who loves to roll in the grass? Maybe one who rolls in dead things or smelly stuff? This is actually very normal for our canine companions who do not realize that three-day old dead raccoon does not smell great on the sofa. But for your dog, those smells are as intricate and sensational as a fine French perfume. They also conceal their own scent, which was a survival technique back in the days of their ancestors. While you laugh at your dog’s post bath antics, your pup is trying to rub off the overwhelming scent of shampoo and reestablish their neutral, individual scent. While Sugar Plum Sparkle shampoo smells lovely to us, for our dogs it is like a loud, crazy rave for their nose.
Dogs have been human companions for eons, and they are arguably the best companions we have, but we have a habit of humanizing them quite often. When they do something naturally canine, we find them hilarious, but for them, they are just doing their doggy thing, which usually involves their primary sense: the amazing, fantastic canine nose. Why do dogs stick their heads out of car windows? Imagine the plethora of smells flying by. It must be like a complex orchestra concert for their sniffers! Almost all of a dog’s actions are driven by their noses. So, next time your pup does something crazy, think about his nose; generally, that nose will lead you to the reason for his silliness.
Happy smells and sniffs to you and your pups!
What odd behaviors do you catch your pup doing? Tell us in the comments!
- Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz 2009
- A REVIEW OF DOMESTIC DOGS’ (CANIS FAMILIARIS) HUMAN-LIKE BEHAVIORS: OR WHY BEHAVIOR ANALYSTS SHOULD STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THEIR DOGS by MONIQUE A. R. UDELL AND C. D. L. WYNNE; JOURNAL OF THE EXPERIMENTAL ANALYSIS OF BEHAVIOR, 2008
- Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell by Peter Tyson, PBS Nova, 2012
Hailing from sunny Southern California, Brianna is a Registered Nurse, former dog foster mom, and Marine Corps spouse. She enjoys beach trips, hikes, and any other various adventures with her two rescue pups, Kibeth and Ajax, as well as writing or reading about anything canine.
Dogs give us the purest physical example of unconditional love and pure unadulterated joy in the world.