14 Misunderstood Dog Behaviors And What They Truly Indicate

Each twitch of an ear, tilt of a head, or playful bark from our dogs conveys a universe of feelings, needs, and desires.

These loyal companions speak a language of their own, often layered with nuances and subtleties that escape the untrained eye.

However, as dog owners and enthusiasts, we sometimes misinterpret these signs, leading to misconceptions about their true intentions.

What if that relentless barking isn’t just for attention?

What if that peculiar habit isn’t as random as it seems?

Delving into the enigma of canine behavior, this article sheds light on 14 commonly misunderstood dog behaviors and unravels the genuine messages behind them.

Join us on a journey of discovery, deepening your bond and understanding with your four-legged confidant.

The Behaviors And Their Meaning

Tail Wagging

Wagging it might seem simple, but it’s like a secret Morse code.

While a relaxed, rhythmic tail wag usually signals a content dog, there’s more to the story.

A tail held high and wagging rapidly could indicate excitement or even a challenge, while one held low can mean insecurity.

Here’s a nugget most don’t know: if your dog wags more to the right, they’re happy; more to the left, and they might be feeling anxious.

Neat, right?

Lifting A Paw

A dog lifting paw can be one of the most endearing sights.

However, this gesture can express a myriad of emotions.

In some instances, it’s a sign of anticipation, like when they’re waiting for a treat or a toy.

It can also denote curiosity, especially when confronted with a new scent or object.

However, when faced with an unfamiliar or uncertain situation, a raised paw might indicate hesitation, unease, or stress.

The dog might be unsure about proceeding or is trying to gauge the environment better.

Owners who recognize this can offer reassurance or guidance, ensuring their pet feels secure and supported in diverse situations.

Tail Chasing

If you’ve chuckled at your dog spinning in relentless circles, you’ve seen it firsthand.

While it’s often just a playful spree, frequent tail chasing shouldn’t be ignored.

This could be your dog’s way of telling you about an underlying health issue or an itch they can’t quite reach.

And in rare cases, it can indicate a compulsive disorder.

Always ensure their tail area is healthy, free of fleas, and if the behavior persists, a quick chat with your vet might be in order.

Chewing On Furniture

If you’ve lost a shoe or two, know this: it’s not personal.

When puppies are teething, chewing helps soothe their gums.

But what about older dogs?

Boredom and anxiety are usual culprits.

A dog with excess energy and no outlet might see that couch arm as a great stress-reliever.

To help, try puzzle toys.

They’re a game-changer, engaging your dog’s brain and giving them a chewy reward.

Rolling In Smelly Stuff

As for that…

uh, unique perfume they find outside?

It’s not to gross you out.

This behavior is ancient.

In the wild, masking their scent helped dogs approach prey without detection.

Nowadays, it’s like them wearing a badge of honor, showing off their outdoor adventures.

If you want to lessen these smelly roll sessions, regular playtimes and new scents, like safe dog sprays, can be an appealing alternative.


For humans, yawning is primarily associated with tiredness or boredom.

In dogs, while it can indicate fatigue, it often carries more nuanced meanings.

In many situations, especially unfamiliar or tense ones, yawning acts as a calming signal.

If a dog yawns when exposed to loud noises, when confronted by another dog, or in an unfamiliar environment, it might be their way of self-soothing or signaling their desire to de-escalate a potential conflict.

Observing a yawn in contexts where the dog shouldn’t typically be tired is a hint that they might be experiencing stress or anxiety.

Recognizing this sign can be instrumental for owners, enabling them to intervene, comfort, or remove their pet from a stressful situation.


Now, the soulful howl.

Far from just canine karaoke, howling has deep roots in communication.

In the wild, wolves howled to gather their pack or signal territory.

Domestic dogs might howl for similar reasons or to respond to certain sounds, like sirens or musical instruments.

Fun fact: Dogs have a unique howl that can be differentiated, much like our voices!

So, they’re quite literally singing their own tune.

Eating Grass

Has your dog ever had a sudden craving for greens?

While many think dogs only munch on grass when their tummy’s upset, that’s just a slice of the pie.

Grass can add roughage to their diet and sometimes, they just like the taste.

But here’s the kicker: if they’re eating grass frequently and in large amounts, it might be worth checking their primary diet.

They could be missing some essential nutrients.

Sitting On Your Feet

Ever felt like your dog’s personal foot warmer?

It’s more than just seeking warmth.

This behavior can trace back to their pack mentality.

By sitting on your feet, they’re signaling to others, This is MY human!

Plus, they feel safer and more secure close to you.

It’s a win-win for cuddles and security.

Humping Objects Or People

It’s a behavior that’s spawned countless awkward moments.

Humping isn’t just about dominance.

Sometimes, it’s an outlet for excitement or stress.

Spayed or neutered dogs, and even females, can display this behavior.

It can also be a way for them to get attention.

A tip for dog owners: redirection works wonders.

If your dog starts to hump, divert their attention to a toy or a trick.


We’ve all seen those excited dogs digging away at the ground, sometimes turning our garden into a moonscape.

While it’s easy to think they’re just being naughty, or perhaps trying to hide a toy, there’s more beneath the surface.

Dogs might dig for a host of reasons.

It could be a throwback to their wild ancestors, who dug to uncover prey or find a cool spot during the sweltering heat.

For pet owners who wish to protect their garden, a designated digging spot or sandbox can help channel this behavior.


The low rumble of a dog’s growl can be a sound that instinctively puts many on edge, as it’s frequently linked to aggression or an impending bite.

However, this interpretation can be a grave oversimplification.

Growling is one of the primary ways a dog communicates.

More than mere aggression, it’s often an expression of discomfort, unease, or fear.

A dog might growl when they’re feeling cornered, threatened, or when something unfamiliar encroaches on their territory.

This vocalization can also indicate pain or an underlying health issue.

Crucially, it’s vital for owners to pay attention to the circumstances surrounding the growl and accompanying body language.

A raised hackle, bared teeth, or a stiff posture combined with growling might indicate an aggressive stance.

On the other hand, a dog that’s trying to retreat while growling might be signaling fear.

Dismissing or punishing a dog for growling can be counterproductive, as it’s an essential communicative tool for them.

Nipping Or Mouthing

When puppies play, they explore the world around them using their mouths, leading to the common behavior of nipping or mouthing.

This behavior is not innately aggressive; instead, it’s a form of tactile exploration and social interaction.

As puppies play with their littermates, mouthing helps them learn bite inhibition—the ability to control the force of their bite.

However, if the behavior persists into adulthood, it might manifest as a sign of playfulness or a desire to engage.

While generally not aggressive, it’s essential for dog owners to address and redirect this behavior, especially if the dog is large or interacts with children, to prevent accidental injuries or misunderstandings.

Training and consistent reinforcement can guide dogs to express their playfulness or affection in less mouthy ways.

Sniffing Other Dogs

We’ve all had those slightly embarrassing moments at the park where our dog is a little too interested in their new furry friend’s rear end.

But guess what?

To dogs, this is as common as a handshake.

By sniffing, they’re gathering a plethora of information about the other dog – from their diet to their emotional state.

It’s their sophisticated way of understanding the world around them.

Before You Go…

You now know more about the misunderstood dog behaviors and what they truly indicate.

If you want to learn more, read the following articles too!

Or watch this video:

Mena Emad, DVM
Mena has a Bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine. His expertise, passion for animal welfare, extensive knowledge, and experience in the field of veterinary medicine make him an excellent resource for our readers.