Why Do Dogs Do What They Do?

Common dog behaviours explained by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma

In this article we’ll be exploring just a few of the things that dogs do, and why they do it. We’ll look into puppy dog eyes, ground scratching, scent rolling, and whether your dog is really asking for a tummy rub when he lies on his back and exposes his belly.


Dogs have a very different perspective on the world, and they employ different ways of interacting with the environment to that of humans.


Some of their behaviours make sense, whereas others seem odd, or are distinctly off-putting for us. If you were to take a leaf from your dog’s book and go to sniff someone’s butt during an introduction, you would at the very least be avoided and considered weird, or you’d receive an embarrassed or angry response from the subject of your surprising and unwelcome attention. Yet, to your dog, this is the polite way to gather information – and being a discrete distance from the toothy weaponry end is considered a safe way in which to get up close and personal.


Why Are ‘Puppy Dog Eyes’ So Appealing?

In June 2019, a paper titled “The Evolution of Puppy Dog Eyes” was published in Science News. The authors, Juliane Kaminsky, Bridget M. Waller, Rui Diogo, Adam Hartstone-Rose, and Anne M. Burrows at the University of Portsmouth, had been researching the changes that have taken place in the anatomy and behaviours of dogs during their evolution.


"They developed the ability to raise the inner eyebrows to form the expression that we associate with feelings of sadness. This also makes their eyes look larger, and we are instinctively attracted to infant-like features that activate our protective instinct."


The research informs us that dogs have evolved new muscles around their eyes over a period of thousands of years to enable them to communicate more effectively with humans. They developed the ability to raise the inner eyebrows to form the expression that we associate with feelings of sadness. This also makes their eyes look larger, and we are instinctively attracted to infant-like features that activate our protective instinct. The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) is a detailed map used for humans and dogs that describes every facial expression through the use of all the muscles employed in facial movements. These are broken down into individually numbered muscle movements called Action Units which generate specific expressions that are used when an emotion is felt. When your dog raises his inner eyebrows, the Action Unit in the FACS system that he activates is called AU 101.


It’s testimony to how powerful the urge is for our dogs to communicate with us that they have evolved this ability to appeal to our nurturing instincts and emotions in order to bond with us.



Why Do Dogs Scratch The Ground After Toileting?


That energetic flurry of paws and claws that scratch the ground and send chunks of earth and grass flying into the air after peeing or pooing is called (rather predictably) ‘ground scratching.’ Not all dogs do this, but if your dog is a ground-scratcher you’ll most likely have quickly learned to step aside as your dog gets into position, in order to avoid being hit by the fallout of unintentional missiles.


"The scent glands in the paws draw attention to the scent of the deposits made, and the scratch marks act as a visual marker to draw attention and guide other dogs to investigate."


Dogs do this to mark territory and give a clear message to other dogs that ‘Fido was here.’ The scent glands in the paws draw attention to the scent of the deposits made, and the scratch marks act as a visual marker to draw attention and guide other dogs to investigate. Dogs who ground scratch in their own gardens are likely to also do this in unfamiliar territory and during familiar walks. Other mammals also ground scratch, including wolves, coyotes, and lions.


Why Do Dogs Roll In Poo And Other Smellies?