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Why Do Dogs Do The Things They Do?  
Is the whole Rockettes leg-lift thing really necessary?

It is to a dog. Better to put your scent mark at nose level, where other dogs can smell it and the breeze can more easily disseminate it. That's why dogs (mostly male, but even some females) contort themselves into precariously balanced tripods to get their urine-squirters into position to splash their pee as high as possible.

Of course, some males never really do get into it, especially if they're neutered. But the most precocious males start lifting a leg at four months of age.

For the most dedicated leg-lifters, the act can get pretty amusing when the dog is one of those small ones with a big attitude. While your average Irish Wolfhound can land the highest squirt with very little effort, if you're a bossy little Irish Terrier, you're going to have to try harder-a lot harder. Some small dogs get that hose up so high in an effort to top some taller dog's mark that they're practically doing a front-paw stand.

When dogs yawn, are they sleepy or bored?

Neither, really. Think of yawning as a kind of switching gears. A yawn increases the flow of oxygen and boosts the heart rate-actions that give the brain a good goosing. A yawn can prepare the body for action-as in the yawning of a keynote speaker waiting for her introduction or a quarterback waiting to get back onto the field. Yawning can also be a way to relax.

Dogs yawn both to charge themselves up and to calm themselves down. It depends on the situation. If you go to a canine agility competition, you'll often spot dogs yawning at the starting line while waiting for the signal to explode across the line to the first obstacle. They're ready to run, and the yawn expresses that stress and excitement. In the waiting room of a veterinary hospital, you'll often see dogs yawning, too-a sure sign that they're stressed and trying to calm themselves.

In training classes, dog will often yawn-and owners will often interpret this as a sign that the dog is bored. Not so. The dog who's yawning in obedience class is more likely stressed than bored, either from nervousness or from wanting to please you but not yet understanding how.

Just as in humans, yawning can be contagious in dogs. If you catch your dog's attention and yawn, you may well get a yawn back. Some experienced dog handlers actually use this to their advantage, encouraging their dogs to yawn as a way to get them either focused or relaxed.

Why do dogs love to roll in stinky stuff?

You know those sprays and plug-ins you use to make the house smell fresh? Your dog is not impressed. If your dog were choosing a scent to make the house smell perfect, she might pick Old Dead Squirrel or Pile o' Cat Poop.

As much as we love our dogs, we have a difference of opinion when it comes to defining what smells "good." Considering that our dogs' sense of smell is hundreds of times better than ours, who's to say which species is right about what smells the best?

Now, about that rolling in those malodorous messes. It's pretty simple, actually: People like to put on nice scents, and so do dogs.

One theory on stink-rolling is that it represents a canine celebration of abundance. Now and then a dog will encounter a rewarding tidbit with a pungent smell; it's like a person finding a $20 bill on the ground. Sweet! It's certainly a good reason to stick a canine nose as close to the scent source as possible and inhale all that wonderful aroma. But to discover an entire rotting fish or other large pile of nastiness often triggers the urge to celebrate with a hearty roll; like a person who won the lottery throwing $100 bills all over the bed and "rolling in dough." You've noticed how silly-happy they look doing this, haven't you?

There's a survival element, too. For a hunting animal, there's a tactical advantage to not smelling like a predator: The prey don't know you're coming. Rolling in strong odors — feces and even dead animals — is thought to provide scent cover, to help predators land their lunch a little more easily.

Of course, none of our pet dogs have to hunt for their supper, but old instincts never really go away. That's why if there's a bad smell available, there's a good dog happy to roll in it. And not long after, a spoil-sport human with warm water and soap ready to ruin it all — from the dog's point of view.

Why do dogs eat grass?

While no definite explanation exists, there are two plausible theories. One is that dogs inherently know that grass helps their digestion, and they probably don't know that its chlorophyll and fiber is why. The other theory is based on canine evolution, when no vets existed nor synthetic medications to ease their ills. Pups took matters into their own paws when they ate something bad by following with a grassy snack to tangle with the offending food, thereby irritating the lining of their stomach and making them vomit. Eating grass in modern times doesn't always indicate a spoiled meal, but pooch's nausea is relieved by instinctively eating grass to make them throw up. Anyone who's been seasick knows that vomiting makes the nausea go away, and apparently, dogs know this too.

Why won't my dog listen?

If your dog isn’t listening to you, its most likely because you aren't fun enough and they have learned that there is a greater reward in ignoring you because there is more squirrels to chase, more time to smell the grass, you name it. The only way to get your dog’s attention is to become more interesting than whatever they are currently doing.

Your Timing is Off?

When your dog won’t listen to you, timing may be an issue. Timing is critical for dogs to understand what they are being rewarded or punished for (focus on rewarding if you can). You have about 2 to 3 seconds after their behavior before the meaning is lost.

Fear of Punishment?

Think carefully before you correct your dog for misbehavior (And don't use inappropriate forms of punishment). For example, your dog gets out the front door and leads you on an hour long chase through the neighborhood. If you punish your dog for finally returning home (or merely allowing themselves to be caught), your dog will associate that correction with the last action they took— coming back.

Dog requires more training?

Our dogs genuinely want to do the right thing, but we need to give them the tools. If you feel your dog isn’t listening because she’s being difficult or stubborn, consider that maybe she just doesn’t get it. The way to fix this is formal training: go to a class, get a private lesson from a professional trainer or read up on current, positive methods. Most importantly, be patient!

What language are you speaking?

If your dog seems to be ignoring you, maybe it’s just a “language barrier” of sorts. You speak English (or Spanish or some other language) and she speaks canine. It’s not just about interpreting a bark. Dogs are very tuned into body language. They communicate mostly through posture, movement, eye contact…all without a single spoken word. The next time your dog doesn’t listen to you, consider if she truly understands the question.

Going for walks without an opportunity to explore and smell. What's up with that?

There are walks, and there are walks. It’s definitely important to have a dog that knows how to walk obediently on a leash. However, it’s also important to allow a dog to have some time to explore her surroundings while walking obediently on a leash. Dogs see with their noses, and they place as much importance on their sense of smell as we humans place on our sense of vision for interpreting the world around us. It’s probably safe to say that dogs appreciate the smell of a tree trunk the way we appreciate a beautiful sunset. Dogs loathe not being able to take in their world for at least a few minutes a day, and too often we humans are focused on going on walks for the sole purpose of exercise or potty breaks. We trudge along the same old route, often without any variety or sense of leisure, and in too much of a hurry to get back home again.

The sense of smell is how a dog takes in the world, and sometimes they're simply desperate for a chance to take a good sniff.

Do your dog a favor and dedicate one of your daily walks to having a "smell walk" — going slow and letting your dog take in the world with her nose. Go somewhere entirely new, explore a different neighborhood or trail, let your dog sniff at a spot until she gets her fill, even if it's for minutes at a time before moving forward. For helping your dog know the difference between a walk where she should be obedient and stay beside you, and a walk where she is free to explore, you can have a special backpack or harness that you use only for smell walks. Just make sure it is something very different from your usual collar and leash set-up so the different purpose for the walk is obvious to your dog. These walks are a wonderful opportunity for your dog to get some of the mental and sensory stimulation that keeps life interesting for her.

Being Boring. Can't you give me just a few minutes?

You know that feeling of being stuck hanging around someone who is totally boring? Think back: remember having to be with your parents while they ran grown-up errands? None of which revolved around a toy store or park, of course. Remember that feeling of barely being able to contain yourself, of wanting to squirm and groan and complain. You couldn't take part in the adult conversation, which was boring anyway, and you were told to sit still and hush. But oh boy did you ever want to just moooove! Just run around the block or something to break the monotony. That's how your dog feels when you're busy being that boring grown-up. Dogs abhor it when we're boring. And it's hard not to be! We get home from work and we want to unwind, to get a few chores done, to make dinner and sack out on the couch and relax. But that's about the most annoying thing we could do to our dogs who have been waiting around all day for us to finally play with them. If your dog is making trouble — getting into boxes or closets, eating shoes or chewing on table legs — she's basically showing you just how incredibly bored she is. Luckily, there is a quick and easy solution to this: training games. Teaching your dog a new trick, working on old tricks, playing a game of "find it" with a favorite toy, or going out and using a walk as a chance to work on urban agility, are all ways to stimulate both your dog's mind and body. An hour of training is worth a couple hours playing a repetitive game of fetch in terms of wearing a dog out. While of course exercise and walks are important, adding in some brain work will make your dog happy-tired. Even just 15-30 minutes of trick training a day will make a big difference.

I'm scared of that thunderstorm. Aren't you scared too?

Many dogs hate thunderstorms--they get anxious, nervous, and in some cases, destructive. Our veterinarian consultant says that dogs can sense a change in barometric pressure well before the storm actually arrives. So when YOU hear the thunder, it might be too late to calm Fido with a pet tranquilizer. A better approach is to move the dog to a familiar, sheltered place where they will feel more secure.


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