Dog owners spend an inordinate amount of time obsessed with dog poop. We watch dogs before, during and after they go, wondering if everything is normal. (Meanwhile, cats are snickering from the privacy of their litter boxes.)
Although some of their bathroom habits just seem quirky, there are fascinating explanations for their kicking, staring and other interesting potty behaviors.
Here's a look at some of the more unusual things dogs do when they go No. 2 and some scientific explanations for their weirdness.
As your dog squats, do you notice that she stares at you while doing her business? You'd think she'd look away in hopes of getting a little privacy, but she locks eyes with you instead. That's because when your dog is in that pooping position, she's vulnerable, and she's looking to you to protect her.
"Your dog is instinctively aware of his defenselessness. But your dog also knows that she is a part of your 'pack.' You are a member of the family group," writes veterinarian Dr. Kathryn Primm. "If your dog watches you during this time, it is because she is depending on you to give her a body language signal or 'heads up' if she should be afraid. She may also be looking to you to possibly defend her should the need arise. If you suddenly leap away, you can bet your dog will respond also."
Maybe that's the same reason your dog won't let you go into the bathroom alone: She wants you to know she has your back.
Just the opposite of eye contact, some dogs want a little more privacy when they go to the bathroom. They might duck behind a bush or hide behind a tree when they potty because they feel safer when they're hidden.
Just like when they decide on a spot to sleep, some dogs spin in circles before picking the perfect spot to poop. While turning, they are able to check out their surroundings to make sure it's a safe place to squat.
Also by circling, they flatten the grass, making it easier for other dogs to see what they've left behind. The act of circling and sniffing also helps stimulate the dog's bowels.
In 2013, a team of Czech and German researchers monitored 70 dogs of 37 breeds over a two-year period and witnessed a grand total of 1,893 "deposits." They found that most of the dogs circled before they pooped. Interestingly, they also found that many dogs prefer to poop with their bodies aligned on a north-south axis.
This one is particularly frustrating when you take your dog out on a freezing winter morning. This spot? No. How about this one? Sniff. Nope. Ahh, yes. This place is just right. Like Goldilocks, your dog has to check around all sorts of locations until he happens upon one that feels just right.
The reason your dog is being so picky is that he's not just depositing feces, he's depositing information. Each solid and liquid elimination sends a message to other dogs about friendliness, food availability and other communication only other dogs would understand.
But all that pacing and discriminating sniffing may also be because the dog is trying to find the perfect surface. Dogs develop a preference for elimination when they are puppies and that sticks with them for a lifetime, Melissa Bain of the Clinical Animal Behavior Service at UC Davis tells Wired.
"They seem to prefer softer substrates, if they have the opportunity to use them," Bain said. "They are also attracted back to the area on which they eliminated before, so if it smells like urine or feces, they are attracted to go back there (providing it's reasonably clean)."
The high kick
After making their aromatic deposits, some dogs finish off with a glorious high kick or two, sending clumps of grass and maybe some sod flying. There are two reasons for these impressive gymnastics, writes veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly in VetStreet.
"In the wild, canines such as wolves, dingoes and foxes may kick the ground after elimination for sanitary reasons. They are simply covering up the mess," she says. "But the behavior is also a way to mark territory. All dogs have glands in their feet that secrete pheromones, and a couple of backward scratches into the earth releases those chemicals."
The booty scoot
Dogs often scoot when they have issues with their anal glands. (Photo: Narith5/Flickr)
Sometimes when a pup is finished pooping, she might drag her bottom along the ground. This is a sign that something is irritating your dog and could be as simple as an errant piece of feces trapped in her fur to problems with her anal sacs, says PetMD. Other causes might be worms, diarrhea or injury. If it happens often, check with your vet.