With the help of dog behaviourist Nick Jones, we demystify some of your pets’ most baffling habits – and how to help if these become a problem.
If there’s one thing we know about dogs, it’s that they’re equal parts weird and wonderful, whether they’re howling along to the Countdown theme tune, or rolling around in poop. Here, we tackle your real-life dog questions...
Why does my dog howl at music – and is he enjoying it?
As tempting as it is to think that dogs are ‘singing along’ to TV theme tunes or our favourite albums, they’re probably not thinking about how to outdo Adele. Howling is a form of social communication that allows wild dogs to make their presence felt – whether they’re lonely, or reinforcing social bonds with their pack.
The sound of music, or even particular notes, seem to trigger that social response in some dogs and they want to add their own contribution. As long as they don’t want to flee the music, or seem stressed, there’s no reason to worry about them. Read our guide to whether dogs enjoy music.
Why does my dog roll in fox poo?
We get foxes in our garden, and when I let my dog out, he charges about barking or rubbing himself in the droppings. Frustrating as this may be, it’s incredibly normal for our canine companions: ‘Dogs love to smell like dogs,’ says Nick Jones. ‘Sadly for some dog owners, their dogs are very pleased to find such an unpleasant smell and then roll in it. As they see it, it’s probably like the finest perfume for dogs!’ Read the theories about why dogs roll in poop.
It’s almost impossible to stop foxes coming on to your property, so, rather than letting your dog into the garden last thing at night, why not take him out on his lead for a quick pavement walk instead?
Why does my dog bark at aeroplanes? And how can we get him to stop?
Not every dog is bothered by aircraft, but it’s not unheard of. It may be a sign that your dog rarely saw them as a puppy, and so never got used to the sight or sound. ‘I sometimes see similar issues, such as barking at kites or balloons in the air,’ says Nick. ‘If you can safely expose your dog to a location that experiences overhead air traffic, this can be a useful starting point.’
‘Each time your dog sees a plane and becomes agitated, request a sit-and-stay, and use high-value food rewards to distract and reward him for calm, self-controlled behaviour,’ he continues. These could be part of his daily food allowance, to shake up that day’s feeding routine. Nick recommends trying to fit in three sessions a week where you’re looking at this behaviour alone, to see if it leads to more settled behaviour and less of a reaction.
If aircraft noise appears to bother him most, you could also try gradually familiarising him with sound clips of planes – you’ll find plenty of dog desensitisation videos on YouTube, and Battersea has some great advice on desensitising your dog to loud noises.
Why does our dog lick the furniture after mealtimes?
‘If this is a regular occurrence, it may be a sign that she’s nervous or stressed,’ says Nick. ‘The action and sensation of licking fabric may help her cope, and alleviate her feelings by keeping her otherwise occupied.’
But it’s not the only possible explanation: ‘Dogs may begin to lick at household furnishings when they have a mineral or vitamin deficiency in their diet. If you have any ongoing concerns, I would speak with a behaviour specialist, as well as your vet, to rule out any underlying health conditions.’
Why does my dog eat grass?
My 18-month-old border terrier will chomp it down, then throws it up again – but he seems fine afterwards. Eating grass is fairly normal for dogs. It’s thought that they do it to get nutrients lacking in their daily diet, or to stimulate vomiting to help clear the gut of toxins. If your dog’s stools are a normal colour and consistency, and he generally eats well without vomiting, then don’t worry too much.
If the regurgitation becomes more severe or your dog loses weight, try changing his diet to a ‘sensitive’ formula, to help calm his gut and avoid the need for his lawn-mowing antics.
Why does my dog eat poop?
My two-year-old Labrador searches for other dog’s droppings as soon as he is off the lead, and ends up throwing up at home. What can I do? It’s not their most charming habit, but it’s quite common for dogs to eat other animals’ poop – this is known as coprophagia. You have a Labrador, and Labs tend to eat anything!
To deter him from poop-eating, keep him occupied with something else, such as a search game focused on food. Dogs love to use their sense of smell. Scatter a few pieces of dry food in the grass and give him the command ‘find it’. Practice in the garden first, where he won't be distracted, so he learns that ‘find it’ means ‘look for biscuits’.
Have you noticed any of these behaviours in your pup? Or perhaps you’ve experienced some different seemingly inexplicable behaviour? Let us know on our Facebook page - @PetplanUK.