Dogtionary: Translating Canine Behaviors that Seem Inappropriate to Humans

Dogs are loving and social creatures. While dogs make wonderful members of the family, their behavior does differ from ours. They have their own set of rules about how to appropriately greet and find their places in groups. Behaviors that dogs consider normal or appropriate aren’t always the most pleasant for us humans, especially when the company comes by and the dogs do something that creates a bit of awkwardness.

Below are some examples of common dog behavior that can create a bit of awkwardness among humans, along with some tips I use to deal with these situations as they arise in my own home.

Sniffing Crotch and Behind

Dogs can detect information about other dogs’ health from sniffing behaviors. This involves sniffing another dog’s crotch and butt areas. However, this behavior can get embarrassing when your dog greets a human guest this way, as it’s a behavior that generally makes people extremely uncomfortable.

Dogs likely get the same sort of information from greeting humans as they do dogs-information about a person’s health and diet.

Solution: Ask guests to offer their hand to your dog instead in a friendly, non-threatening way. This gives your dog something else to focus on. You can also correct your dog with a “no” when he sniffs humans inappropriately.

Eating Vomit

There are several reasons dogs vomit, but scientists don’t know why it is dogs eat their own regurgitation. While you can’t offer the company a good explanation for this behavior, it’s something dogs are known to do.

Solution: Recognize the signs of a dog about to vomit. My dogs tend to lick their lips constantly before they do it, which seems comparable to how a human may swallow saliva in an attempt to keep the food down. Be at the ready with disinfectant cleaning supplies and shoo your pooch from the inevitable pile.


Dogs can lick many things: floors, themselves, people’s clothing and random objects. It’s pretty embarrassing when company comes over and our female pit bull Ockee just sits down and starts licking herself-complete with sound effects.

Fortunately, most people understand that dogs lick themselves to stay clean. Ockee’s a particularly clean dog, and like any fussy female, she spends plenty of time cleaning her nails, too.

Some dogs may often lick grass depending on what they have smelled on it.

Solution: When she licks herself, I simply command her to move to another area. There’s nothing wrong with what she’s doing, but we don’t need to hear her.

Guests are also sometimes surprised by Ockee’s need to lick clothing. This can be a sign of a dog who was weaned too early. I correct this behavior by telling her “no kisses,” then ask her to sit. When she sits still without licking, I offer her affection by petting her.

Humping and Genital Excitement in Male Dogs

Male dogs sometimes hump humans, furniture and other dogs. This and other signs of excitement are attributed to two things: sexual maturation and display of dominance.

Like humans, dogs have sexual urges. They don’t understand that humping is inappropriate in our culture-it’s just their instinct to do it. Dogs also show dominance this way and can do it at any form of excitement such as regular play, which is why it is important to correct the behavior, especially if it happens to a human guest or a member of the family.

Solution: Neuter your male dog. Aside from being healthier for your pet, it will reduce the amount of humping and mating or dominance-related activities your dog displays. It also helps control the pet population, preventing unwanted puppies from filling shelters.

Submissive Urination

Submissive urination occurs when a dog feels excited or submissive. My mom’s dog Rosie does this frequently during greetings. She’s a little Chihuahua, so guests are hardly ever intimidated by her cheerfulness and small size. However, immediate recognition and a high-pitched voice lead to Rosie urinating on the carpet, furniture and houseguests!

Solution: Ask guests to ignore the dog when they walk in. Once your pet is calm, she may receive a calm greeting. Note: scolding the dog makes her feel intimidated and will just make her want to urinate more.

As long as you take charge of the situation and communicate with your guests, it’s in your power to set everyone at ease. Something as simple as ordering your dog into a separate room can alleviate any lingering tension or awkwardness in most situations.