Ask Victoria Wells: Why is my dog doing that?

Aug 12, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. ET

Dog behavior can be a little strange at times. From excessive digging to eating grass, some behaviors don’t seem to make sense. We talked to a dog behavior expert to explore the meaning behind perplexing dog behavior.

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Victoria Wells, manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA Adoption Center, is no stranger to strange dog behavior. She shares some of the reasons dogs may act weird.

Why do dogs dig holes?

“Some breeds are predisposed to digging more than other dogs,” says Wells. Some digging has to do with climate, such as digging by dogs who live in the snow or heat looking for shelter. Wells says that most dogs enjoying digging and burying things as a form of entertainment. To discourage your dog from digging in the yard, try hiding toys in appropriate areas. “There are interactive games that are made for dogs that have a need to investigate and a need to solve puzzles, and those keep dogs that like to dig occupied,” says Wells.

Why do dogs howl?

Wondering why your dog throws his head back and lets out a long, mournful (and annoying) howl? “If you have a basset hound or beagle, they howl because it’s sunny, because it’s rainy, because it’s morning,” jokes Wells. “Some dogs are predisposed to howl. It’s triggered by noise, by movement. Some dogs howl because they are lonely. It can be a distress signal, a mating call or anxiety-based vocalization but it is not meant to scare away, like a bark.” Try to take note of the environment and how your dog is acting when he howls.

Why does a dog’s hair stand up?

The hair standing up on a dog’s hind end and back is often mistaken for a sign of anger. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is displaying aggression,” says Wells. “It’s just a state of heightened arousal. Dogs who are in a dog run playing can be perfectly appropriate and playing with one another, but their hackles stand up. It’s just a heightened state of alertness.” Pay attention to other aspects of your dog’s behavior, such tail movement and position, or the sound of growling, to try to see if your dog is happy or upset.

Why do dogs eat grass?

“People don’t really know for sure,” says Wells. “Sometimes they say it’s to coat an upset stomach. The dog thinks that it’s going to help soothe that stomach issue. Some people say they like the taste and it gives them something to do. Some people say it might be an obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Wells advises owners to look for other issues, such as signs of boredom or illness. If the dog is otherwise healthy and happy, it’s not a problem. Make sure your dog has appropriate chew toys and food.

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