Five common dog behaviours that owners often misunderstand

Five common dog behaviours that owners often misunderstand

Most dog owners are generally fairly confident that they understand their dog’s behaviour, temperament and sometimes, unusual or unique behaviours, and in most cases, they are right-dogs are what are usually referred to as “honest” animals, in that they demonstrate their feelings clearly and you can trust what their body language and behaviour is saying, assuming that you understand how to read it!

It is certainly true that dogs are easier to “read” and interpret than cats in this respect, and that once you get a handle on the basics of canine behaviour and communication, you will likely have a good understanding of what your dog is “saying” and what they are going to do next-with some exceptions!

Even the most experienced of dog owners sometimes trips up when it comes to interpreting certain elements of canine behaviour, and are often shocked to learn that what they think their dog is communicating is not actually accurate; and in this article, we will look at five such behaviours, which are often misunderstood or misinterpreted by dog owners. Read on to learn more.


It might seem self-evident that if your dog is yawning then they are tired or have just woken up, or possibly that they are bored-and this might well be the case. But yawning is also a form of communication for dogs as well as a reflexive action, and can have various different meanings.

Much like how people can “catch” yawning from each other, dogs too will usually join in if you are yawning, which can be reflexive, but also deliberate. For dogs, yawning fulfils many purposes, including deliberate mimicry and finding common ground with another dog or person, which is something that dogs like to do.

Yawning can also be a calming signal-if you are telling your dog off, or they are not sure of your mood (or that of another dog) then they might yawn to try to appease you. Understandably, this can have the opposite effect with people, leading you to believe that your dog is deliberately letting you know that they are ignoring you!

Licking you

Dogs and licking is one thing that polarises the opinions of dog owners-many have no wish to be licked and find it mildly repulsive (and of course, unhygienic) while some see it as a form of bonding and a show of love. However, this is not actually accurate-dogs lick for a great many reasons, some of which are not self-evident!

In the wild, when a mother dog feeds her young, she will often have to carry food back to the nest, and so licking around the face and mouth is a way of asking for food, or trying to taste what was available last-and in some cases, wild dogs will ingest food to carry it back more easily over a long distance and then regurgitate it for the litter, so licking around your mouth can also be asking for your to throw up something edible-not related to love at all!

Finally, licking the face and mouth of another person or dog can also be a calming, submissive gesture to let the other dog know that they are yielding control and deferring to the other party.


Barking is one of those universal dog behaviours that has a great many different meanings behind it, and yet it is most commonly associated with aggression. If you approach a strange dog and it is standing in your path barking, you will likely fixate on the barking as a possible warning sign, when in fact, the rest of the dog’s body language may be welcoming and inviting you to play.

While barking can be a form of warning and a sign of aggression, it is much more likely to have a wholly different root cause behind it-such as excitement, a ploy to get attention, or if there is a lot of noise going on from other people and dogs nearby, as their own way of joining in!

Inappropriate urination

If your dog pees when you first get home to greet them or otherwise urinates inappropriately inside of the house, this is most commonly written off as a combination of poor bladder control and excitement, but this is not usually the case.

Urinating when greeted is usually a submissive sign-this does not mean that your dog is necessarily afraid of you, but that they are yielding dominance to you, and this is why such behaviour is most commonly seen in smaller dog breeds, who see the dogs and people around them as much larger than everyone else does!

Avoiding eye contact

All dog owners are familiar with the concept of finding their dog doing something that they shouldn’t do, telling them off for it, and witnessing their dog take on a distinctly guilty expression, avoiding eye contact and to all intents and purposes, looking incredibly shifty!

However, your dog is in no way looking guilty or admitting their misbehaviour in dog language-and they may not even know why you are angry.

If you speak sternly to your dog or tell them off, doing everything that they can to avoid eye contact is your dog’s way of taking their telling off and letting you know that you are the boss, and by avoiding eye contact, they are yielding dominance to you and trying to appease you-even though they probably don’t even know why they are being told off.

This is because direct eye contact, in dog language, is both rude and challenging, and so if you are speaking sternly to your dog, the last thing they will do is seek to hold your gaze and escalate matters.

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