March 10, 2023


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8 Common Dog Behaviors + What They Mean

If our dogs spoke English, we would be able to ask them what some of their mysterious behaviors were all about. But they don’t, leaving many of us wondering: What is my dog doing? Is my dog trying to communicate an important need, or is this a natural behavior that I can allow or ignore? What do these dog behaviors even mean?

Luckily, I’ve been working with canines for over 25 years, and I’m here to help you understand some of these common dog behaviors and what they mean.

1. Zoomies: What are zoomies?

Let’s start with a very common dog behavior I encounter a lot with my clients: zoomies. Zoomies refer to those unmistakable explosions of energy that dogs exhibit, often featuring frantic, repetitive behavior like running in circles or spinning around rapidly.

It’s a common response to think that zoomies are cute and playful, and to encourage the behavior by exclaiming or laughing. And while, yes, your dog may be adorable while running in circles, zoomies are actually an indication of a bigger problem.

There are two primary triggers for zoomies: overstimulation and sugar rushes.

Sometimes, dogs will experience zoomies when coming home from a walk or coming inside. This can be caused by overstimulation, and zoomies are an expression of this experience. In my work, though, this isn’t the most common cause.

The most common cause of zoomies I witness is a sugar rush, which is caused by a biologically species inappropriate diet. As I frequently talk about, most food given to dogs is highly toxic, filled with sugar, chemicals, and filler, which causes immense imbalance in the canine system. In this way, zoomies can be a lot like a kid getting a sugar rush – our canines are experiencing this rush of stimulation as their bodies try to process this sugar from their diet.

So start to notice – is there a certain time of day that your dog is exhibiting the zoomies (in particular, about an hour after eating)? This will help you identify the cause.

Overall, zoomies are not a positive indication. Think about it – does your dog look happy while running frantically in circles? This frantic, extreme behavior is simply not a normal, healthy sign and doesn’t indicate balance.

In moments when zoomies occur, aim to create a calm space to rest and restore their state of calm. Remember – zoomies, at the core, are an expression that some sort of need is not being met in your dog’s life.

2. Why does my dog eat grass?

I receive this question often, as many dogs tend to eat grass while on walks or playing outdoors. This is a normal behavior, but something to be knowledgeable and careful about.

Many dogs naturally use this behavior as a way to cleanse their digestive system and GI tract. This desire to cleanse is often a result of a diet that doesn’t biologically align your dog’s needs, and when this imbalance is present, eating grass can act as a purging effect and instinctual way to alleviate discomfort.

Beyond diet, the microbiome of our dogs also comes into play here. I would highly encourage all dog-owners to talk with an integrative or holistic vet to test the microbiome of their canines. Eating grass for many dogs can help to produce healthy microbial populations and gut health for many species.

Don’t forget to pay careful attention to where your dog is eating grass – unknown areas may be chemically treated, and our dogs absorb these chemicals. Unless you feel fully confident that the grass where you are has *not* been chemically treated (and a vast majority of grass in public areas has been treated) – do not allow your dog to eat this grass.

3. Why is my dog licking its paws?

There are three main reasons we find our dog’s licking their paws, and if not carefully attended to, this can lead to a variety of physical, emotional, and behavioral issues.

Who doesn’t need a little self-care? Just like us, dogs go through a grooming process to keep themselves clean, and it’s perfectly healthy for dogs to exhibit this behavior if it seems to be in moderation. But be aware of your dog’s habits around grooming – in particular, overgrooming and obsessive grooming.

If your dog is excessively licking their paws and they appear irritated, it’s likely an allergic reaction. This comes from a variety of sources, the food they’re eating, the lawn they are walking on, even a toy they may be playing with.

The third reason I often come across when I see dogs licking their paws is related to stress and anxiety levels. Essentially, it is your canine’s nervous habit, and these habits often carry risk for the development of more severe issues.

4. Why do dogs howl?

Howling was the original tracking device for wolves and their descendants: dogs. It’s a signal for the pack that alerts other animals of their presence and even communicate.

We often see our dogs howling as a response to some sort of trigger (think ambulances, fire alarms, other dogs, high-pitch vibrations). In moderation, this behavior is completely normal, but monitoring the frequency is important in determining whether or not it is excessive.

Another reason our canine’s howl is connected to stress levels. When experiencing stressful situations and feelings like separation anxiety or loneliness, it can be a completely natural response for dogs to howl.

5. Why do dogs pant?

Dogs don’t sweat – which means the only effective way for them to release heat from their body is through panting, making it a very important part of their energy systems.

Similar to licking their paws, sometimes panting is rooted in physical reasons. A few of the most common physical conditions I encounter that can lead to panting are excess weight and high inflammation rates. Sometimes panting is also related to high levels of stress.

Ideally, we want our dogs to pant for short periods of time after exertion of physical energy. In conjunction with strenuous activities or hot temperatures, a little bit of panting is nothing concerning. However, I get weary when dog-owners tell me their dog is panting excessively without reason, oftentimes this is a sign of unrest and even potentially disease in the body.

The key element here is being attune to your dog’s personal patterns and behaviors when it comes to panting. It’s all about grounding them back to homeostasis and really promoting a calming environment.

6. Why is my dog shaking?

There are many reasons your dog could be shaking. To understand the root cause in your canine’s specific case, it’s helpful to break it down both physically and psychologically.

Physically, there are a few explanations for dogs shaking. I often see instances of dogs shaking as a result of being exposed to cold temperatures, especially with puppies. More drastically, shaking could be a manifestation of a reaction to a foreign substance. In this case, if you think your dog may have ingested something toxic or foreign, make sure to get to a veterinarian immediately.

Taking a behavioral standpoint is essential to understanding your dog’s unique problems and how to solve them on a psychological level. Does your dog shake around one gender in particular? Does your dog shake in the presence of other canines? Generally, shaking can be a reflection of nerves, a lack of confidence, and a response to stress.

Since there are so many causes for dogs shaking, it can definitely be challenging to identify the root cause in order to address whatever core need may not be met. Book a consultation with me and I’d love to help you explore and restore your canine to a calm, healthy, and aligned state.

7. Why does my dog chase its tail?

Much like the zoomies, many humans view dogs chasing their tails as a cute behavior and tend to encourage it. And again, while of course I’m sure your dog is very cute to you – this isn’t a behavior that is natural or healthy for dogs.

Dogs chasing tails actually indicates a sense of anxiousness and nervousness in their lived experiences. Which, when you really observe this behavior in your dog, intuitively makes sense. This is a repetitive, often somewhat frantic behavior. If you were to observe a human exhibiting something similar, you would immediately read the anxiety behind it. The same applies to canines.

In some cases, I also see dogs chasing their tails as a result of physical discomfort in areas surrounding the tail and stomach. In other situations, there is a much more psychological compulsive and obsessive element in this behavioral pattern.

Utilizing grounding techniques is a surefire way to help mitigate this behavior. Embrace your status as an embodied alpha and approach your canine with intention, tranquility, and elevated eye contact to maximize the connection.

8. Why does my dog eat poop?

This is a common dog behavior that so many are curious about, because it doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface. But taking a deeper look, dogs eating poop actually gives us a lot of information about what’s going on internally.

Dogs eating poop (their own, or other dog’s) is often the result of not having their nutritional needs properly met. So many dogs are not being fed a nutritionally adequate diet. When dogs encounter other dog’s poop on walks or in dog parks, there is often unprocessed fiber present and this elimination may look, smell, or even taste like food. Your dog is simply looking for additional nutrients, and they believe they’ve found it!

Of course, this isn’t a behavior you want to encourage. Here, you can respond in a way that clarifies that this behavior isn’t acceptable. Work in the context of their world to help them understand the implications of eating poop and patterns surrounding that.

Read next: Your Introductory Guide to Holistic Dog Care

In conclusion…..

There’s many different facets to understanding your dog’s unique behaviors. The key takeaway here is to really be in tune with the behavioral patterns appearing in your canine’s life and adjusting your attitude and behavior accordingly. Asking yourself key questions (when, where, how, etc.) around your dog’s behaviors will give you important information into how your dog is experiencing life and what they may need from you as their leader.

At the end of the day, our dogs thrive when they are calm and collected, and our ability to ground them in our home environments effectively is central to this.

Discover everything you need to know about assuming the alpha role and understanding your canine on a deep, impactful level in my masterclass, Embodied Alpha. The shift you make in your relationship with your canine is one of the most meaningful shifts you will ever experience. 

The masterclass includes access to a private Facebook group where you will have exclusive access to supplementary content and myself to answer your questions. I can’t wait for you to get started.

Sasha Armstrong

Founder of Canine State of Mind

A place where dog parents can learn more about canine behavior and how to create the environment for a closer relationship with their dog.



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