13 Weird Cat and Dog Behaviors Explained
Ever wonder why your pet does crazy things? Here's the lowdown.
(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)
From chasing their own tails to rolling in muck,to bringing home lovely dead rodents, pets do the darndest things. But why do they? And how can you make them stop?
Katenna Jones of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, who also knows a thing or two about cats, explains all:
1. Begging at the table
The behavior: Your dog sidles up to the dinner table, demanding a bite of your burrito.
Why it happens: "Because it works!" says Jones. "If a dog begs, and you give him one single morsel, he will continue to beg. If you never give him snacks (and your guests don't either!) the begging will stop."
The solution: If your pup's already developed the bad habit, Jones says, "Try giving your dog something else to do, like chew on a stuffed and frozen Kong toy in their crate or on their bed during dinner time."
2. Clawing the carpet
The behavior: Kitty is picking at (and ruining) your new area rug.
Why it happens: "Cats have scent pads on their feet," says Jones. "Clawing serves to scentmark high traffic areas. Some cats like to scratch on horizontal floor surfaces [like carpets] while others prefer vertical surfaces [like couch corners]. Scratching also allows for a nice full-body stretch, helps remove shed sheaths that can get stuck on the outside of kitty nails and just feels good."
The solution: "Trimming nails regularly. Aask your vet to do it, or to teach you how, says Jones. Another suggestion is "providing a scratching post that your cat likes in the area where they have chosen to scratch." A good round of playtime doesn't hurt, either.
3. Barking at the mailman
The behavior: Your friendly neighborhood Cliff Clavin can't deliver catalogs because Fido won't pipe down.
Why it happens: Jones paints a picture of your dog's thought process: "The mail carrier approaches, the dog thinks, 'Hey! There's a person out there! Bark Bark!' Then, lo and behold, that stranger walks away. From the dog's perspective, barking made that scary person [leave]."
The solution: This one involves a hands-on approach. "You can try asking your mail carrier to give Fido treats or distract and treat your dog for being quiet while the mail carrier is there. As the carrier leaves, the game ends," says Jones.
4. Bringing owners dead prey
The behavior: You're having a lovely breakfast when kitty saunters up with recently deceased mouse between his jaws.
Why it happens: "Many people think this is a 'thank you' gift to their benevolent owners," says Jones. "The truth is far more amusing. Mother cats maim and bring prey to their poor, helpless babies to teach them how to hunt."
The solution: Besides keeping your cat indoors? Chalk it up to a learning experience: "By playing with injured prey, kittens develop crucial hunting skills," says Jones.
5. Digging holes in the yard
The behavior: Michael Dog-las keeps creating craters.
Why it happens: "It could be an inherent breed trait. Many terriers or dachshunds were bred to go after burrowing creatures," notes Jones. Some reasons are more behavioral: "It could simply be boredom, and it is a fun game they discovered. Some dogs dig to uncover cool earth to lie in on a hot day. Still others are chasing ground-dwelling creatures, like moles or voles," she adds.
The solution: "You can try providing a diligent digger with an area where it is okay to dig, by marking the boundaries and burying toys and dog cookies. Also, ensuring there are no grubs in your grass will keep moles and voles away, and plenty of appropriate mental and physical exercise can help tire out digging doggies," says Jones.
6. Refusing to drink water next to their food
7. Sniffing people's behinds
The behavior: Your butt is your business. Why is the dog all up in it?
Why it happens: "Dogs greet each other by sniffing anal, genital, and facial areas, as they are packed full of scent. The anal area is of particular interest, because of the anal sacs that are on either side of the anus. This is sort of a 'Hello, my name is ____' badge and tells dogs a great deal about each other. Humans, no matter how clean, have areas that are packed full of interesting scents. One in particular, happens to be right at nose level," explains Jones.
The solution: Let it go or address it with a simple command. "While embarrassing for the person, it is perfectly natural behavior for a dog. To them, they probably think a handshake is weird!" says Jones. "Teaching your dog a good 'leave-it' or 'down-stay' to use when guests arrive can help avoid some embarrassing moments."
8. Running laps around a room
The behavior: Every couple of days, for seemingly no reason, Mr. Meow freaks out and speeds through an imaginary obstacle course.
Why it happens: "Because it's fun! Cats are like sprinters — they can run very fast, but not for long," says Jones.
The solution: Let them be. "A little burst of speed now and again is normal and healthy," Jones says. "Some cats do this often — some don't at all. It's a personality thing and sort of a 'get your yayas out' game."
The behavior: ARRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Why it happens: "Howls are multi-frequency sounds that travel long distances," explains Jones. "A howl can be used as a 'contact' vocalization to let others know where they are. Friends who hear the howl can find their friends. Enemies who hear the howl know to stay away. Pet dogs may howl when a human sings or when they play an instrument or when a siren goes off — because those sounds are also multi-frequency. Such sounds may trigger some dogs to 'sing along.'"
The solution: Getting your pooch to howl only at your say-so is a good start. Reinforcing calm, quiet behavior with a treat is another way to address the situation. Visit this eHow page for more.
(MORE: Old Dogs Can Teach Us New Tricks)
10. Eating feces
11. Chasing laser pointers
The behavior: Cat-herine Hepburn goes nuts for any red light pointed her way.
Why it happens: "Being predators, many cats instinctively enjoy chasing things and trying to catch them. Live creatures, toys, and laser pointers are essentially the same thing to kitties," says Jones.
The solution: While this isn't a problem, per se, too much playtime can become an issue. "While it may be amusing to tease kitty with a laser pointer, your cat can become very frustrated," warns Jones. "Be sure to allow your kitty to 'catch' the pointer from time to time by turning it off when they get a paw on top. Then, toss them a treat. Also, do not prolong the laser sessions."
12. Chasing their tail
The behavior: Your pets run around in circles, trying to catch themselves.
Why it happens: Jones says, "This may be medical or behavioral. Ensure your pet does not have any intestinal parasites or anal gland concerns, external parasites (like fleas), or hot spots that may be causing the chasing. Otherwise, your pet may be doing it for fun. Some pets amuse themselves, some seem surprised to see it attached and 'chasing' them back!"
The solution: "My cat chases her tail when she is shaved, but only if the entire tail is shaved so we always leave half of the tail long. In some extreme cases, your pet may be exhibiting neurotic or anxious behavior if they do it excessively or obsessively. I recommend not encouraging tail chasing," says Jones.
13. Rolling on their backs in the grass
The behavior: Randomly, your hound stops, drops, and rolls. And now he's covered in muck.
Why it happens: "Again, there are several reasons," says Jones. "The grass may be cool, or it may scratch the dog's back. Commonly, the dog is rolling in something stinky (like a dead worm or some other yummy thing). Because dogs are biologically predators, they instinctively want to cover their scent. If they smell like a dog, they may scare off their quarry. If they smell like horse poop, or a rotten carcass, the chances of that are greatly diminished. Dogs are especially fond of rolling in things right after a bath for this reason."
The solution: "A strong recall or 'leave it' command can help you to verbally keep your dog away from sticky stuff."
Katenna Jones is the Director of Educational Programs for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, "a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to becoming better trainers through education." Visit their website for more information about training your dog or cat.