Getting Your Head Wrapped Around Dog Activity and Actions

Dogs can be challenging to understand. They are motivated by food; they have an incredibly well developed sense of smell; they are naturally curious, pack animals that love to play and explore. We all know the basics. But when it comes to behavior beyond the basics, dogs can be very challenging to understand.

Who among us hasn’t looked at a dog at least once and wished that they could speak, just so we could know what they’re trying to tell us?

While there is no Rosetta Stone for dog behavior, animal psychologists and veterinarians have been able to figure out some meanings of what our dogs do on a day to day basis, and in situations involving some stress.

Read on for a quick list of a few common dog behaviors, and what they mean. In some cases, understanding what your dog’s behavior is telling you may mean the difference between a trip to the vet and a trip to the pet store for new toys.

common dog behaviors

Dogs and Panting

Contrary to popular belief, dogs do sweat. Their sweat glands, however, are primarily located in their paw pads. Because they are covered in fur and have so few sweat glands, they need another way to get rid of heat, so they do this with their mouths.

In fact, getting rid of excess heat is the primary reason for a dog to be panting. That said, panting can also be caused by anxiety or pain, as well as several other more serious medical conditions. If you notice your dog panting when it doesn’t seem like they should be, seek veterinary attention.

Yawning in Dogs

Unlike their human companions, dogs don’t typically yawn because they are sleepy. A yawn can be a signal that your dog is feeling stress of some sort or is afraid or anxious with their environs or with someone’s behavior.

Yawning around new people or in new situations is common for some dogs and should be paid attention to. Rushing your dog into the unfamiliar when they’re uncomfortable does them, or you, little good.

Other Anxiety Behaviors Commonly Seen in Canines

Dogs exhibit a wide variety of behaviors to indicate their level of anxiety in situations. Many of these behaviors can be easily misinterpreted as signs of aggression or possessiveness by their owners. If your dog sits on your feet or pulls back to the space between your legs, it is generally a sign of nervousness or dog anxiety.

Defecating in the home (once potty trained), incessant barking, tucking their tail between their legs, shaking, and other behaviors all can be signs of heightened anxiety and should be addressed in a careful, caring manner through slow introduction of potential stressors and good, consistent training.

Extreme anxiety, though, is generally beyond the ability of most dog owners and trainers to deal with on their own and may necessitate working with an animal behavior specialist. Consult with your veterinarian to see if your animal may need special help with anxiety.


Adult dogs bite out of aggression, fear, or anxiety. Puppies bite as part of play with other puppies and their parents (and owners). Make sure that excessive biting does not continue beyond puppyhood by training your dog consistently and socializing them with other dogs and other humans.

If you are struggling with biting behavior, consult with a professional trainer or your veterinarian before it is too late to address the underlying cause and correct the behavior.

Going Around in Circles

Many dogs chase their tails as part of normal, typically playful behavior. But, if your dog cannot stop walking in circles, then it may be a sign of a deeper physiological or neurological issue that requires immediate medical attention.

Disgusting Habits

Many dogs, if given the opportunity, will exhibit behaviors that most people find extremely distasteful. Whether you’re dog is eating feces, rolling in carrion, or rooting around in the bathroom garbage, you can rest assured that their behavior is normal. Dogs are pack animals and hunters, but they are also scavengers with very strong immune systems, and are very curious about strong smells.

Behavior to Watch Out for in Dogs

All dogs exhibit behavior from time to time that may leave you wondering if there’s something wrong with them. It’s in the nature of the difference between the species that we do not completely understand each other.

At the end of the day, you know your dog best and will generally be able to tell the difference between your dog being herself, and needing to see the vet to correct whatever is driving their behavior.

Author: Giano Panzarella