18 Common Dog Behaviors and What They Mean

dog biting tail on the beach after chasing it

It’s no secret that dogs can be very unique and personalities can vary between breeds, as well as individual dogs. But there are some common behaviors that many dogs exhibit. These are a few common dog behaviors and what they mean:

1. Chasing Their Tails

Dogs chasing their tails is a behavior many people are familiar with, even if it’s a bit bizarre. In most cases, this is playful behavior. Dogs can get distracted by their own tails, thinking it’s not a part of their body, so they chase it as if it were a toy. But, there are many reasons why dogs chase their tails.

However, chasing tails can be a sign of obsessive behavior or also health problems. If your dog chews their tail after they catch it, This could be a sign of urinary tract infection or skin issues. If the tail chasing is constant, this could be a sign of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Be sure to bring this up with your vet at your next visit so they can determine the root cause.

2. Eating Their Own Poop

One of the grosser behaviors in dogs is eating their own feces. Also called coprophagia, it is one of the most common dog behaviors. To be honest, we may never really know the reason behind this behavior. There are a few potential reasons why dogs eat their own poop, the most common being that it is a sign of anxiety or just a natural instinct.

This can be a learned behavior in puppyhood or a sign of senility. It’s not highly dangerous to your dog, but it is gross. If the behavior continues, schedule an appointment with your vet so they can rule out any health causes. If nothing comes up, there are specific training exercises to try to stop this behavior.

3. Licking People

Another extremely common behavior in dogs is to lick people. The most likely cause of this behavior is that it’s a way dogs show love. Many dog owners call this behavior “doggy kisses”.

It also can be a way for your dog to get your attention. Plus, dogs like the salty taste of skin. If this behavior bothers you, you can train your dog not to lick you. It’s best to ignore the licking and then praise your dog or give them a treat when they stop licking. Eventually, they will learn not to lick you and the behavior will stop.

4. Sniffing Other Dog’s Butts

Another extremely common behavior is sniffing other dogs’ butts. Dogs best learn about their world through their olfactory senses. Sniffing another dog’s butt is just a way for your dog to get to know a dog.

This sniffing can tell your dog all they need to know about another dog and can even encourage bonding. Only stop the sniffing if the other dog seems uncomfortable. Learning some basic types of dog body language can help you keep an eye out for signs of discomfort or other warning signs it’s time to rein in your dog.

5. Tilting Their Heads

When a dog tilts their head, it can look like they have a question. This usually happens if a dog hears something or sees something unusual. This behavior can have a few different meanings.

Dogs might tilt their heads to better hear a sound. This might be to change the position of an ear flap so they can better hear. It could also be a sign of concentration to figure out a new situation.

If your dog’s head remains tilted and they seem to have no control over it, this could be a sign of a health problem. Schedule an appointment with your vet to have your dog checked out.

6. Barking, Howling, and Vocalization

Dogs need to communicate just like humans. This communication is completely normal behavior in all dogs. Some breeds, such as Huskies, are more likely to be loud vocalizers, but nearly all dogs communicate in some vocal way. Dogs will bark, howl, or produce other vocalizations to communicate with you or other dogs.


Barking is usually done when dogs are startled or scared. It can also be done to alert you to danger or simply to let you know someone is at the door. If your dog’s barking is out of control, there are ways to train your dog to stop barking.


There can be several reasons why dogs howl. Howling usually occurs when dogs hear other dogs howl or even when they hear a siren. This is likely an instinctual behavior that goes way back to when dogs lived in packs and needed to communicate with one another.


Vocalization can look different in different types of dogs. Some dogs that cannot bark will vocalize instead while little dogs tend to yip. Don’t ignore vocalizations in your dog because this can be their way of communicating irritation or fear.

It also could be a sign your dog is in pain. However, don’t reinforce this behavior if it’s out of boredom and is excessive. You can train your dog to stop vocalizing but it may require consulting a dog trainer if the behavior is excessive.

7. Scooting Their Butts

Have you ever wondered why your dog sometimes scoots their butt across the floor? It can be funny to watch but also intriguing at the same time. It’s a totally normal behavior for dogs and usually means something is bothering them on the rear end.

The most common cause of this behavior is that the dog’s anal glands are bothering them. These glands are located on either side of the anus and are filled with an oily, pungent fluid. These glands typically empty during bowel movements, but some dogs need to have their glands expressed manually. If your dog is frequently scooting, talk to your veterinarian for an assessment.

Another reason for this behavior could be itchy skin, a mass on their behind, or parasites like worms. If the behavior continues and your dog seems uncomfortable, take them in for a veterinarian visit. It’s better to have it checked out and find it’s nothing to worry about rather than it turning into something more serious.

8. Humping

Humping behavior is quite common in dogs, but it’s not always sexual in nature. It’s also not always a sign of dominance as some people believe. In reality, this behavior is actually quite natural in dog play. It’s also a sign of excitement or attention-seeking.

This behavior isn’t usually a problem between neutered or spayed dogs, unless one dog is uncomfortable. If you can tell when one of the dogs looks uncomfortable, be sure to separate them immediately. If the dogs are not spayed or neutered, this behavior can lead to mating and pregnancy.

If this behavior bothers you, simply walk away from your dog when they are engaged in this behavior. Ignoring the behavior or offering them a toy to play with can help them change their behavior. If the behavior persists, consider talking to your veterinarian or a trainer to work at breaking the habit.

9. Panting

Panting is one of the most common behaviors in dogs. But does panting mean something more? When a dog pants, it is their way of cooling down. Dogs have to rely on moving air through their mouths to cool down because they don’t sweat. This is not a very efficient way to cool dogs down, so it’s important to find other ways to keep your dog cool.

It’s also important to know about heat stroke in dogs so you can keep your dog safe. Panting can also be a sign of distress or anxiety. If you can tell your dog is stressed, try to remove them from the stressful situation and help them calm down.

Either give them their favorite toy to distract them or put them in a safe place, like their crate. And if your dog looks uncomfortable while excessively panting, contact your veterinarian as it can be a sign of a bigger issue.

10. Leaning on You or Other People

Does your dog like to lean on you or other people? It’s pretty common for dogs to lean on their owner or other people they trust. It is especially common in large-breed dogs. The reason behind this behavior is simple. Dogs want to be near people they love. Most dogs are very affectionate and this is just another way dogs show love.

A lesser common cause of this behavior may be anxiety. Leaning against you can be your dog’s way of showing you they are struggling with separation anxiety. It can be hard knowing what to do when your dog has separation anxiety, but there are some things to try. However, there will be other signs of separation anxiety if this is the cause of leaning behavior.

11. Digging

Dogs love to dig. However, it can be frustrating when your dog digs up your yard and makes a mess of everything. Dogs typically dig when they are bored or anxious. And some dogs like to bury their toys or bones so no one else can get them.

Another reason why dogs dig is to sometimes dig a hole to lie in when it’s hot outside. The ground is typically cooler than the air, so lying on cool earth is a means for your dog to cool down. If this is the case, you need to find a cooler place for your dog to relax.

The best way to stop this behavior is to ensure your dog is not bored or anxious. This might mean not leaving your dog alone outside for an extended time. Make sure your dog has plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, as keeping your dog from getting bored can help keep them from resorting to digging.

12. Showing Their Teeth

If your dog shows you their teeth, proceed with caution and check for other body language clues. Your dog could be showing dominance or aggression with this behavior. If your dog is also snarling and wrinkling their nose, they are letting you know they are very unhappy or afraid. Be careful because your dog may end up biting you.

13. Growling

While growling can be a hint at aggressive behavior, it doesn’t always mean that. If your dog lights out a low growl with or without a bark, they may be feeling threatened, territorial, or protective.

If your dog is exhibiting this behavior, be on alert as they may become aggressive and attack. Fear is a common cause of aggression in dogs so it’s important to note the cause and work on avoiding it in the future if possible.

However, if your dog produces a soft growl, they could be anxious or on alert. It can even be a sign of contentment. You may also hear a soft growl during playtime with a toy or another dog. Keep an eye on your dog whenever they’re playing with another dog but light-hearted growling is typical in playtime.

14. Flicking or Pricking Their Ears

If your dog pricks their ears forward, this means they are intently listening to something they might have heard. Many animals flick their ears forward when they hear something as it allows the sound to travel into their ears better.

If they are flicking their ears, they may be trying to relieve irritation. This could be particularly true if they are flicking their ears and shaking their head or pawing at their ears. There could be a fly bothering them, they could have ear mites, or maybe their ears are just irritated and need to be cleaned. In this case, check their ears and carefully clean your dog’s ears if needed or make an appointment with the vet to get their ears checked out.

15. Raising Hackles

Hackles are the hairs that stand up on the back of your dog’s neck. This often happens when they are scared, surprised, or anxious. If your dog raises their hackles, help them calm down, but be careful as they may become aggressive.

16. Circling Before Lying Down

If your dog typically circles before lying down, they are simply trying to find the most comfortable spot. This could be normal behavior or it could be a sign that your dog is in pain. If you notice discomfort at other times, schedule a visit with your vet so your dog can be checked out.

17. Stretching

Dogs often stretch after a nap or playtime. They also tend to stretch to indicate affection or playfulness. It’s common to see your dog stretch after you return from a day of work. Your dog is signaling to you that they are happy to see you and it’s playtime!

18. Pacing

There are a few different reasons why dogs pace. If your dog begins pacing in circles or from room to room, they could be nervous, playful, or excited. If they’re pacing in circles around you, they want to play, and that could be a sign your dog isn’t getting enough exercise. If they’re pacing nervously or timidly, this could be a sign of anxiety.

Pacing might also be a sign of bloat in dogs. Keep a close eye on what’s going on to figure out why your dog is pacing. If they’re drooling excessively, bloated, or having trouble breathing, get to the vet immediately.

These are just a few common dog behaviors and what they mean. Learning to understand your dog goes a long way in bonding with and understanding your pup!