Why Dogs Do These 3 Common Oddball Behaviors

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

canine head tilt

Story at-a-glance -

  • Certain doggy behaviors can leave humans quite puzzled
  • If your dog sometimes cocks his head to the side when you talk to him, what’s he thinking?
  • What does it mean when a dog tries to walk between her human’s legs?
  • Why do so many dogs find the contents of trashcans so appealing?

There’s no doubt your dog wonders at some of the things she sees you do. Likewise, there’s not a loving dog parent alive who hasn’t spent time watching their best furry friend and thinking, “Hmm. I wonder why she does that?”

Typically there’s nothing wrong with the thing your pup is doing (though certain behaviors can be cause for concern), it’s just that you’re at a complete loss to understand it! Let’s face it — dogs are fascinating to watch. The following are three very common oddball behaviors you’ve probably seen your dog perform, and the reasons behind them.

Why Does My Dog Cock His Head?

How cute is this move? The adorable canine head tilt is definitely one of the more charming, if curious, behaviors dogs perform. They tend to do it in response to a particular tone of voice or a familiar sound that means something good is about to happen.

Now, to us humans, a dog with his head cocked appears to be trying to understand what we’re saying, or what a specific sound might mean. And according to veterinarian Dr. Sarah Wooten, we’re right, more or less. She says the head tilt might signify that your dog is trying to make sense of what he hears.1

Experts believe dogs probably tilt their heads when they think what they’re hearing might lead to something they enjoy, for example, a treat or a walk. According to Wooten, since dogs understand certain words, a pup who’s tilting his head might be trying to pick up a key word or tone change that holds promise.

Another possible reason for head tilting in dogs has to do with the way they hear. Their movable earflaps help them locate the source of sounds. By changing his head position, your dog can better distinguish differences in the time a sound reaches each ear, enabling him to judge how far he is from the sound.

Wooten believes head cocking is probably a natural behavior in dogs that they repeat the more it is reinforced. If you praise your dog or show special interest when he cocks his head, he’ll be more likely to repeat the behavior. Wooten also says there’s no evidence that head tilting is associated with a dog’s breed, age or intelligence.

It’s important to know the difference between a cute “listening” head tilt and one that is persistent or intermittent and happens without a trigger, as the latter can be a sign of a medical problem that requires investigation.

Why Does My Dog Walk Between My Legs?

Here’s another cute-but-odd canine maneuver that is seen primarily is medium and large breeds: Your dog tries to walk between your legs, even if there’s no possible way she can do it. What’s up with that? According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung in an interview with VetStreet:

“Some dogs do it when they are excited or anxious: The physical contact may be comforting to them. It can also be a form of attention-seeking behavior. Who would not pay attention to a dog walking between their legs?”2

Other reasons for the behavior: your dog might be a bit fearful of hands reaching down for her, or she might use it as an alternate behavior to jumping up on you because she knows she shouldn’t. If you suspect your dog is feeling anxious when she performs the behavior, share your concerns with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist.

Another reason your dog might try to weave between your legs is because she’s itchy and wants to rub her body against something to relieve her discomfort. She could also be trying to rub something annoying off her coat, according to Sung. One more reason dogs walk between their human’s legs is because they’ve been trained to. Leg weaving is a thing!

If your dog isn’t anxious or itchy, and as long as she doesn’t pose a risk to a small child or elderly person, her leg weaving behavior is harmless. If it’s an issue for you, you can either distract her with a toy or game, or teach her a replacement behavior.

Why Does My Dog Pull Things Out of the Trash?

This is a really annoying, but entirely understandable behavior when it happens in your kitchen. To your dog, your kitchen trash is an aromatic buffet of leftovers and containers that once held food. What’s not to love? Solution: Keep the lid down, put the can out of reach or make it inaccessible in some other manner.

Dogs who sample items from, say, the bathroom or home office trash, are often just looking for something to chew on. Cardboard tends to be a favorite — especially empty toilet paper rolls. This can also be an attention-seeking behavior. Some dogs trash-dive only when they’re home alone.

“I have had cases in which a dog pulled all items out of the trash and destroyed them, but this behavior only occurred when the owners were absent,” explains Sung. “When the owners were home, the dog left the trash alone — even if the humans were out of sight in another room. This type of behavior may be a reflection of the dog’s level of anxiety during the owners’ absence, and not a search for specific trash items.”3

Occasionally, a dog will eat weird things from the trash due to a medical condition. If your dog is ingesting nonfood items from the trash or elsewhere, make an appointment with your veterinarian to see if there’s an underlying disorder that might be causing the behavior.