Common Dog Behaviors Explained: Why Does my Dog Do That?

Last Updated: February 14, 2023

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Dogs and humans have lived together for eons. However, their roles have changed significantly. Canines aren't the wild hunters and protectors they were in the past. While many dogs still live to serve and protect, they're pretty much just another member of the family.

Dog behaviors explained

The relationship between dogs and humans only got stronger. They're such a part of modern life that many of us forget to remember that even the most well-trained canine companion is still an animal!

Animals are unpredictable and exhibit strange behaviors that can leave to perplexed. Intense training and plenty of love can help turn rambunctious dogs into well-behaved furry friends. But they're still going to do things that leave you scratching your head!

A big part of dog ownership is understanding common behaviors and what they mean. With that insight, you can address them effectively and mold your dog into the well-mannered pooch you know they can be!

Common Dog Behaviors Explained

Ready to learn why your dog behaves the way they do? Here are some of the most common behaviors that owners find troubling or annoying. Don't forget to check out the accompanying links to learn even more about what they mean and what you can do to address them.

Incessant Digging

Digging is an expected behavior that dogs will indulge in from time to time.

Occasional digging in the backyard when your pup is having fun is nothing to concern yourself about. But what if it becomes a chronic problem, and your yard gets full of holes? That's when you should take action.

Dogs can dig for many reasons. It could be linked to psychological issues, anxiety, or even a lack of exercise. Either way, it's a good idea to address it. Some dogs will also perform the action inside, marring up carpets and flooring.

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Needy or Clingy Behavior

We all want to cherish every moment with our dogs. But sometimes, you just want a bit of peace. Dogs that exhibit clingy behavior will stay by your side no matter what. It's not just a matter of feeling comfortable. In these cases, dogs will turn to destructive habits if they're unable to follow you everywhere you go.

There's always a deeper-rooted issue at play. Addressing that problem should make your dog more comfortable, easing back on the neediness.

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Destructive Chewing

Chewing is another expected behavior, but most dogs know their limits. They understand that they only chew on approved toys and treats.

When your dog ignores those rules and starts chewing on your shoes or furniture, you have great potential for trouble ahead. Nip this issue in the bud as soon as you can. Otherwise, you'll constantly replace items in your home!

Fake Biting

Play biting is something you most often see with puppies. It's pretty standard at that age, but you must take steps to teach your canine companion boundaries.

If you don't, your pup could grow up thinking biting is OK. We don't need to tell you how that can be a problem!

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Guarding Food and Toys

Resource guarding is a severe behavior you shouldn't ignore. Dogs can get super protective over the things they love. You're most likely to see them protect their food, but they can also do the same for toys, blankets, and even humans!

When someone gets near the thing they're guarding, they'll begin to growl and nip. Push further, and they can get downright aggressive.

Guarding resources stems from a perceived scarcity. There's a lot you can do to address it, so take action as soon as you notice this behavior.

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Jumping Onto Humans

Jumping onto humans is cute at first. When your pooch is a puppy, it's not a massive deal at all. But that cuteness quickly turns into an annoying habit.

The action is spurred by excitement. While there's nothing wrong with being excited to see you or others, you must teach your dog how to deal with those emotions more healthily.

Also Read: How to Stop a Dog From Jumping or Climbing the Fence

Leaping Onto Furniture

Here's a behavior that's often inadvertently reinforced. Dogs love to seek out comfortable surfaces to lounge. Your sofa is the perfect spot!

While you might start with a strict "no dogs on the furniture" rule, you might slip and let them indulge every once in a while. That sends mixed messages, making your dog think that it's OK to take over the couch.

Climbing Onto and Claiming Your Bed

Here's another issue that starts out innocent enough. When you let your dog sleep on your bed with you, it's an adorable way to bond.

However, some pups will take things to the extreme. Over time, they'll claim the bed and leave little room for you! That's when you must step in and reclaim your space.

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Regular Barking or Howling

Barking and howling is something that quickly gets annoying to you and your neighbors. All dogs are capable of verbalizing. However, some breeds take things to the extreme. Schnauzers, Huskies, and other howling breeds are prone to being very loud.

Again, there's always a reason for this behavior. For some dogs, it's instinctive. Either way, you can use training to put a stop to it and teach your dog when it's appropriate to verbalize.

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Warning Growls and Biting

Growling and biting at people or other animals is a telltale sign of aggression. Even if your dog never acts on those emotions, they're bubbling beneath the surface. If you don't take action now, it's only a matter of time before they cause actual harm to others.

Figure out where the aggression is coming from and take steps to calm your dog down.

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If you have a dog that's prone to pulling on its leash, regular walks can be a nightmare! You should never have to fight for control on strolls around your neighborhood park. You're the leader here!

Pulling indicates a couple of different potential issues. It could be a dominance problem, a lack of training, and poor overall containment. Luckily, there are plenty of training techniques and accessories to put a stop to it.

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Chasing Small Animals

Some dogs are natural-born hunters. They have a deep-rooted prey drive that stems from their wild ancestors.

If you have one of these dogs, they'll likely try to chase down any small animal that comes their way. Instincts take over, and they give chase instantly. While that's not a massive problem in a contained backyard, this prey drive can put your dog in perilous situations.

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Accidents Inside

Is your dog urinating and defecating inside the house? For puppies, that's an expectation. But when it starts happening with potty-trained dogs, it's a severe cause for concern.

Accidents can be a result of emotional issues and health problems. Take your dog to a vet, and don't be afraid to consult a trainer for guidance.

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Eating Feces

Dogs aren't afraid of gross things. They are the first to wallow in the muck and eat garbage. But when they start eating poop? That's not something you should accept.

Eating poop can lead to all kinds of health problems. Dogs will resort to eating feces when faced with malnutrition. Some will do so just because they like the taste. Either way, it's best to address this issue as soon as you notice it happening.

Obsessive Licking

Licking is usually a product of anxiety, boredom, stress, or even medical issues. Occasional licking is fine. However, some pups take it to the extreme, spending hours licking a single part of their body or an item in your home.

Excessive licking can lead to hot spots and infection if it's body-focused. Take your dog to a vet to rule out medical issues and get to the bottom of this behavior!

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Anxiety-Based Destruction

Does your dog seem to tear something new apart every time you leave home? There's a good chance that anxiety is to blame. When dogs can't cope with their emotions, they turn to destruction to let things out.

Do yourself and your home a favor and see what's going on with your dog. Training and a few simple distractions can make all the difference.

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Core Body Language Cues

In many cases, you can spot the warning signs of problematic behavior before they even occur. In addition to spotting oddball action, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with general body language cues. That way, you can be proactive in dealing with your dog's behavior.

Anxiety-Ridden Actions

When a dog is anxious, it will become extra needy. They may cling to your side, bury their face in your lap, and even start shaking. You might see this as you're about to leave the house without your dog. There's a good chance that you'll return to some destruction.

Read more:

Playful Demeanors

Here's body language you want to see!

When your dog feels playful, they might bark at you, nudge you with their snout, or bow down as if they're about to leap. The body becomes loose as your dog's energy levels go through the roof!

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Dogs exhibit fear in many ways. They become instantly stiff when they encounter a person or situation they don't like. The hairs on the neck typically stand on end. The tail may perk up as they raise their neck and head.

If the issue continues, your dog might start growling and backing up. It's a defense mechanism. Even if they seem strong and confident, they're likely shaking in their boots!

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Stalking and Hunting

Knowing when your dog is about to chase after something is very important. Your dog will likely get low, stare at its target with wide eyes, and bow down.

Well-trained dogs will snap out of it when you call their name. However, those with little training may develop tunnel vision and ignore you.


When dinner time rolls around, dogs with little training may line up to wait for the perfect opportunity. They'll sit down, wagging their tail and intently watching you. You may even see them lick their lips as they whimper and beg.

Be careful! Your dog is waiting for the perfect opportunity to steal your food.

General Nervousness

Nervous dogs can get pretty clingy in new environments or situations. The experience is a bit different from anxiety, but it has many telltale signs.

In addition to getting behind you, they might pull their ears back, shake their head, and yawn. Some pups will transition to aggressiveness if they don't feel safe, so it's crucial to take action.

Understanding Dog Behavior

I know what you're thinking: "Is it really necessary into canine psychology?" Dogs are just dogs, right? Well, understanding where your dog's behavior comes from goes a long way in stopping it. Not every oddball action warrants attention, but some do.

Whether it's an act of aggression or a silent plea for help, knowing how to read your dog's behavior goes a long way.

Understanding Canine Behavior

As an owner, it's your job to provide for your dog at every turn. That goes beyond food and bare essentials. You must take care of their physical and emotional needs, too.

If your dog is acting up, take it as a cry for attention. There's likely something you need to address to help your dog become the carefree animal they deserve to be.

Knowing how to read those non-verbal cues is essential. 

It'd be one thing if your dog could outright tell you what's wrong or what they're feeling, but they can't. Canines are complex creatures, and we have no way of knowing what's really going on in their heads.

However, we can use our knowledge of canine behavior to get a good idea of what they're going through. Learn to read your dog like a book! It'll make you the best owner you can be.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

Your dog's actions don't come out of anywhere. There's always a reason for their action. That's especially true with some of the most jarring behaviors.

The whole point of understanding why your dog acts the way they do is so that you can address the root of the issue and help them adopt healthier habits.

Generally, the cause of behaviors is separated into a few different categories.

Canine Instincts

The first category is instinctive behaviors. We're talking about actions your dog doesn't have to learn. It's in their DNA and is passed down from ancestors long gone.

Some instinctive behaviors include digging, chewing, chasing animals, and more. 

Additional causation factors can come into play, too. However, these actions are pretty standard and expected of a canine.

Health-Related Actions

In some cases, destructive behaviors stem from health issues.

 When you're dog is feeling unwell, it can become instantly vulnerable. Many will try to hide their pain, as weakness is a killer to canines. As a result, spotting the issue at hand can be challenging.

If you suspect that health problems are to blame, the best thing you can do is take your dog to a vet. Your vet will perform tests to rule out diseases or genetic conditions causing your dog to act out.

Learned Habits

Next, we have bad habits. Habits are always learned. You might not realize it, but there's a good chance that you've inadvertently rewarded behaviors you don't want to see in your dog.

Take, for example, begging for food. If you've ever given in and "threw your dog a bone" because you couldn't resist those cute puppy-dog eyes, you created a bad habit.

It can be tough to shake those behaviors, but training is possible.

Emotional Issues

Finally, there are emotional problems. This factor is similar to health conditions. However, the root cause is more psychological. Your dog can act out whenever they feel stressed or have difficulty being alone.

In these cases, working on the emotional driving forces is paramount.

Should You Address Common Behaviors?

correct dog behavior or not

Whether or not you should address common behaviors is entirely up to you. Some actions are innocent enough.

If they're not causing you, your family, or your dog any trouble, why deprive them of something they like doing?

Dogs will be dogs, and some actions are too innocent to warrant any concern.

However, others can create genuine issues in your day-to-day life. Whether it's destruction, aggression, or something that's plain annoying, you can work to modify unwanted behavior.

All it takes is some training to address the root cause and divert your dog's attention to something more beneficial.

Learning to Read Between the Lines

Never take your dog's behaviors at face value. There's always a reason behind them. Understanding what your dog thinks when they do these unwanted behaviors can give you a new perspective.

That insight will prove to be useful as you train those actions out of your dog and make them a more well-rounded family pet.


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About the author 


Steve is a writer with over 10 years of experience in dog training and nutritiion.

His goal is to educate dog owners about the ins and outs of canine behavior as well as keeping up with the latest scientific research in the field.