Understanding Puppy Behavior
For as many great times as we share with our puppies, watching them learn and discover their new world, there are some things they do that amaze us.
They zoom from one room to another as if they've just remembered a vital appointment. Then zoom back, just to make sure you're watching. Then they do it again. They chase their tails for no apparent reason. They hiccup. A lot. They fall asleep ... while eating.
In between belly laughs, you might wonder why puppies act the way they do. The answer is two-fold: One, they are young and full of life. Two, their ancestry (wolves) lives in the wild.
"[Most] puppy activities are natural and normal," says Diane Arrington, owner of the Dallas-based PetPerfect Academy. "Puppy play is necessary for healthy brain development, particularly chewing activities. Puppies are like babies—fresh, innocent, and trusting."
(And yes, that innocence can translate into tail chasing!)
Here are some puppy behaviors you've probably seen, and answers as to why puppies do what they do:
- Chasing comes from a puppy's instinct that traces back to his ancestry. Puppies are a descendent of dogs and wolves, and these animals instinctively chase prey in the wild. A puppy will start chasing his tail as soon as the tail is long enough for him to see it in his peripheral vision. In short, puppies chase their tails because they are practicing their hunting habits.
- Chewing didn't start in your shoe closet. Animals in the wild have had to chew to break down food. Puppies also chew to relieve the discomfort of teething.
Rolling in the grass may just look like your puppy's favorite way to spend a lazy afternoon, but it's actually how he cleans and dries his fur. - Eating plants and paper comes from the instinct to eat roots, bark, and grass. Puppies replicate this behavior, and it's up to you to help them understand that there are healthier things to eat.
Circling before they lay down isn't always as common among puppies as it is with older dogs. But the reason behind it is that they are nesting and bedding down, as they would do in the wild. Your berber carpet or a forest floor—it's all the same to a puppy. Puppies hiccup for the same reason humans do—their diaphragm spasms. This action is just a simple fact of life. (And it's really cute to witness!) Bunny runs, those lightening-fast sprints around the yard, are designed to dissipate energy and aggression. Most mammals do this. Pat Miller, founder of the Maryland-based Peaceable Paws and author of The Power of Positive Dog Training and Positive Perspectives, calls this a "puppy rush," although these bursts of energy are also called "zoomies" and "frapping" (frenetic activity period). Miller says the behavior is darn cute—and perfectly harmless. "However, if your pup does it a lot, she might be telling you she needs more exercise and interaction with you," Miller adds. As for falling asleep while eating, again, puppies are like babies—they need plenty of rest and have no idea when to slow down. Sleep just sneaks up on them! Be sure interaction with your puppy is centered on activities that are positive. Avoid playing games of competition, such as tug-of-war or wrestling. Instead, Arrington suggests playing educational games—and working with your best friend to sit, stay, and come when called. "Nurture a puppy with gentleness and love, and he or she will turn out to be the best dog you’ve ever had," Arrington says.
Remember to enjoy every stage of puppyhood because, as Arrington points out, "it goes by very quickly."