Why does my dog do that?

Why does my dog do that?

Ask the RV Vet

With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
 YourRVvet@gmail.com

Dear Dr. Deanna—We take our dog, Nora, with us on our RV trips, and have noticed that she will sniff an area on the grass or on the side of a tree, then urinate on that same spot. She has been spayed. We thought only male dogs did that!—Kevin G.

Good question!  Dogs exhibit many kinds of behaviors that we humans generally just accept without wondering why they do what they do. There’s more to this than “she’s just being a dog.” We may call them domesticated, but many of their behaviors trace back to their wild cousins.

Urine-marking is common in both male and female dogs. The object is to “mark” their territory, even though they may not be in their own yard. To a dog, territory can mean anywhere they are. If you’re walking your dog, and he/she smells urine on a shrub, they may urinate over that scent, even though they may be far from home. This behavior is genetic, from the era when our dog’s ancestors roamed in packs, much as wolves still do today. When wolves from outside a pack come upon the scent of another pack, the message is “Stay out! This is OUR territory!!

Here are some other dog behaviors you may have wondered about.

Why does my dog turn in circles before she lays down?

Our dogs’ wild ancestors—wolves and coyotes, for example—will often walk in small circles to flatten the grass. It’s thought they are making a kind of comfortable nest. Apparently this behavior also has a “survival” component because it has been passed down for many generations. Our household pets don’t need to make beds in the grass anymore, but this behavior continues to be part of their genetic code.

Why does my dog curl up in a circle when he sleeps?

This behavior goes hand-in-hand with circling to make a nest. By curling head to tail, wild canids not only keep warm, their vulnerable vital organs are protected in case of an attack. This may also explain why many dogs enjoy a round basket-like bed. If your dog stretches out, he is either warm enough or comfortable….maybe both.


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Why do dogs sniff each others butts when they meet? 

This behavior between dogs is the equivalent of two people exchanging business cards. By doing this, a dog can tell a lot about another canine: is a male or female, friendly or aggressive, healthy or ill? And what they are actually smelling is a noxiously bad scent secreted by two small glands on both sides of the anus called anal glands. This scent is also deposited on feces, as the glands are squeezed when defecation occurs. When your dog stops to smell feces on your walk, he can tell a lot about the dog that left it (although as good RV neighbors, we always pick up after our dogs… right?).

Some dogs inadvertently express their anal glands when very excited or scared. Sometimes the glands start to leak fluid when the dog just sits. If they become a problem, the glands can be removed.


Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones.  The author, Debra Horwitz, is a renowned veterinary behaviorist. This book will help you better understand why your dog does what she does, and help you train her to become a better family member. Click Here to order from Amazon.


Why does my dog bury his treats in the couch cushion?

This one is fairly easy to explain. It’s called caching, and is another survival behavior. In times of plenty, wolves and other wild canids will bury meat and bones, to be dug up in the future when food is not as plentiful. Our domesticated dogs still do this, although they likely aren’t sure why. You find old treats under the couch cushions because that is as good a hiding place as a dog can find in his modern home.

Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com 

Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. 

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