Dogs do all sorts of silly things, and some behaviors can certainly seem strange at times. In most cases, ritual behaviors aren't cause for alarm, but dog families should be aware of a few important exceptions.
Ritual vs. Compulsion
One of the best things about being a dog parent is seeing your pup grow from a timid puppy or shelter dog into a true individual with unique preferences, silly personality quirks and distinct habits. In many cases, quirky behaviors become rituals that the dog performs as a normal routine.
Some rituals are common, while others are more unique. Many dogs like to spin in a circle before lying down, for example. This particular ritual is a good example of one that actually has a perfectly rational explanation, no matter how strange it may seem. Quite simply, it's a way of flattening out the surface to make it comfortable for sleeping. Other common rituals, such as kicking the feet in the dirt after going to the bathroom, also have logical explanations that make the behaviors easy to understand.
There's a line, however, where a behavior stops making sense and becomes a compulsion. Behavioral compulsions are habits that occur as a way of relieving stress, similar to the way obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects a person. A compulsive behavior may seem harmless at first, but it can spiral out of control if the underlying issue isn't properly addressed.
In dogs, a compulsive behavior like sucking on a toy as a self-soothing mechanism may not seem important, but it could become a problem if the dog becomes distraught when separated from the object. When dogs manifest compulsions through excessive licking or chewing on their own bodies, they could actually cause physical harm to themselves over time.
Recognizing When a Repeated Behavior Is a Problem
A dangerous behavior like compulsive licking is usually noticeable to family members. The sound of the licking is often easy to hear, and bare spots that develop on the skin often eventually bleed as the behavior progresses. However, other repeated behaviors can masquerade as weird personality quirks. For example, a dog that constantly snaps at the dust floating in the air may seem like an adorable goof who likes chasing things, but this behavior can actually indicate a bored dog who needs to get some exercise and mental stimulation. If you’re noticing these issues in your pup, try getting her some exercise that stimulates her brain. This can mean agility training, more trips to the dog park, playing fetch or digging around in a forage box.
Similarly, a dog who repeatedly takes pet food and treats to a secluded spot to eat may be experiencing anxiety related to food. A natural, healthy food like Freshpet
is delicious, but that doesn't mean your dog should feel like he has to guard his dinner. Food guarding is a sign of anxiety in dogs that goes beyond a mere preference to eat meals alone. Natural dog eating habits actually lean toward the social. As pack animals, dogs usually want to be with their families and friends when they chow down. The desire for isolation is sometimes a sign that something is not quite right.
If you're noticing behaviors that concern you, talk to your vet or to a dog trainer to determine if a behavior is a real problem. A stressed out dog may simply require some training and extra attention to get back to a place of normal behavior.