My dog stares intently at me as he poops. I stare back. Sorry, I tell him. You may find this situation mortifying, but hey, I’m the one that must pick it up. AND I make sure that those back-leg scratches you add don’t send the little pile flying into the wind. Oh, I’m mistaken? You’re not embarrassed? Feeling defiant, are you? “You looking at me? Eh? You looking at…. Me?” Hairy Travis Bickle on four paws.
But, according to the experts, I’ve got it wrong: Our dogs look at us when they poop because their posture forces them into an indefensible position. As their caregivers and cheerleaders, we’re there to assure them that all is well. We’ve got their backs, so to speak. This makes me feel useful.
And while we’re on the subject, why does my dog turn round and round like a top before he settles in for the poop? Legs gathered under in a four-point pirouette, back humped, rump tucked in and downwards, ready to settle and aim when…… Yes, when exactly? It takes forever; he seems to be waiting for the stars to align.
That’s not too wrong an assumption, apparently. According to a study published in Frontiers in Zoology, dogs align themselves with the earth’s magnetic fields and choose to place their body along the north-south axis. Not the east-west axis, for some reason. They may be our best friends, sleep on soft cushions and share our nachos. But dogs are animals, tuned into Mother Earth.
We’ve all seen it: your dog wants to settle in his bed, but she can’t quite get the “sweet spot”. She turns around and around, scratches the bedding, turns again, and finally settles in with a sweet sigh.
According to the father of Ethology, Konrad Lorenz, this is a “fixed action pattern”. A hard-wired behavioural pattern developed through ancestral necessity that lingers on today, even when unnecessary. Your dog may be beating the grass down to ward of snakes or insects or heading their nose to the wind to keep a better eye out for possible intruders. Never mind that the bed is eiderdown. They can’t help it. Another charming example of a FAP is when your dog sniffs another dog’s urine on a post and cocks his leg to add his own. Even when his own deposit has long been depleted.
My dog’s adorable, no doubt about it. I make a little squeak or say a certain word, and he gazes at me, tilting his head to one side. My heart melts. “You cocky little devil”, I say. “You know how to lay on the charm.”
Or so I thought, until a recent study was published in Animal Cognition. The authors found that “gifted word learners”, in other words, dogs capable of attaching names to objects quickly, tended also to be gifted head tilters. They cautiously conclude that these dogs do the charming tilt as a part of active information processing. More studies on canine funambulism to come, I’m sure. In the meantime, I prefer to think he’s just playing cute.
My friend backed me into a corner the other day at a party and whispered, “My dog likes to…. um… lick my arms and legs.” Her expression was painful. Ahh, another case of the passionate licks. Don’t worry, I told her. Slobbering with their tongues comes naturally; they do it to explore and clean. It’s a way to express themselves and to create a bond. Your dog could be:
- Telling you he loves you. People touch other people, to assure them, to stroke and caress. Dogs use their tongues.
- Calming himself. The long, slow tongue licking action is a great way to shake off stress.
- Trying to get your attention. Some dogs put their paw on you, or bark, or poke their nose into your leg (Poodles and Spanish Water Dogs are often guilty of this). Others give you little butterfly kisses or long slow tongue baths.
- Letting you know he empathises with how you must feel just now, judging from your sad face, your tears, your anguished tone.
- Enjoying the taste of your skin. You may be nice and salty with sweat or have eaten something that left a lingering taste. Or it could be the body lotion you just applied.
What a treat for your dog! You’re their finest form of entertainment.
Dogs like to sniff into the nether regions. Poke their nose in the wrong places. Embarrass you in public. Yes, I’m talking about dogs that like to put their noses into people’s crotch area and sniff with joy.
They do not do this to make you blush. They are on a mission. There’s a concentration of pheromones in that region and they are hellbent on getting all the information available – right from the source.
Dogs steal underwear for the same reason. Steal them, and sometimes eat them. Dogs are disgusting but we love them anyway.