MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We all know our dogs can do funny, cute and sometimes, very strange things.

Like howl at sirens, kick up grass or tilt their heads. So, why do they do them? Good Question.

There aren’t any easy answers to these questions because dogs can’t tell us why they do or don’t practice particular behaviors. So, WCCO-TV talked with six different dog experts – from psychologists to vets to trainers – to share their thoughts.

“We have a pretty good idea on some things,” says Dr. Margaret Duxbury, Minnesota’s only board-certified dog behaviorist. “We can make very educated guesses.”

By looking at the outcome of a dog’s behavior, its social structure and evolutionary history, experts can try to deduce what might cause them to act in a certain way.

Howling at sirens

Long ago, dogs and wolves travelled in packs and communicated via howling over long distances, says John Wordsworth, a long-time dog trainer. He says dogs who howl at sirens – which is rare – don’t think it’s another dog. Instead, the sound of sirens triggers the howling response because that’s how dogs used to communicate.

Kicking up grass

This is a way for dogs to leave a visual signal they were at a certain place, according Dr. Kristi Flynn and Dana Emerson at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Dogs also have scent glands in their paws and by kicking up the grass it spreads their scent even further, signaling to other dogs they were there.

Circling before lying down

According to Thomas Zentall, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, it’s similar to human making a bed. Before the invention of lawn mowers and soft beds, dogs would have to tamp down grasses for a place to sleep. Now, they continue the behavior as an automatic reaction and evolutionary response.

Tilting head

Some experts believe this phenomenon happens because a dog might be trying to better hear or see what a person is saying to them. Marc Bekoff, author of Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do, says that could be the case, but dogs titling their heads could be because humans reinforce the behavior when they giggle and give attention. He says it could also just be an inquisitive behavior, like when human tilt their heads to show interest.

Lick faces

Dr. Duxbury says humans tend to think of dogs licking faces is often considered a form of kissing, but it’s not. Instead, she says this is a dog behavior where context is important. For example, when a human puts their face to a dog, face licking could be a “really big Stop It signal.” But, if a dog comes to a person, she says it’s more likely a social greeting and a sign of respect.

Heather Brown

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