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If you’re a new dog owner, you may be perplexed by behaviors that are perfectly normal. Understanding why dogs behave the way they do helps you understand their point of view.

Sniffing and Marking

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Sniffing (or tracking) occurs when dogs follow the scent trail left by humans or other animals. This special talent explains why dogs are used so widely in police work, hunting and rescue operations.

When you take your dog for a walk around the neighborhood and he stops to sniff at certain points, this is almost the canine equivalent of checking his e-mail. The scents that they smell (urine, feces, hair and vomit) let them know the extent of the animal traffic in their area.

Predominantly a male trait, it’s said that dogs urinate on a certain spot or mark it to make an unfamiliar environment smell more like home—masking strange odors with their own. Male dogs practice this in response to earlier marks left by unfamiliar males rather than females or themselves. Marking is also used as a kind of area guest list; dogs mark directly on top of earlier markings to sign up. Females generally use marking as a means of attracting suitors when they’re in heat.

New Research on Sniffing Did you know that scientists are training dogs to detect disease in humans? Recent reports indicate that some dogs sniffed worriedly at their beloved humans, prompting them to check with their physicians and sometimes saving their lives. Capitalizing on these reports, scientists are now investigating canine diagnostics as a reliable tool in medicine.

Why Do Dogs Mount Other Dogs?

Whether you find the act of a dog mounting or “humping” amusing or disgusting, you should know that it’s not always a sign that your dog is feeling amorous.

Generally, this behavior is displayed by male dogs and to a lesser degree, some female dogs, and can be seen through their eyes as an act of dominance. As funny as it may seem, your dog may think that he’s getting one over on you and should be stopped. A firm push on the chest until he’s back on the floor and a standard command such as “Play nice!” or “No humping!” should do the trick and confirm your position of authority. If you don’t make a conscious effort to stop this behavior, numerous other behavioral problems may arise.

Neutering your pet should help curb the hormonal influence for mounting, as he probably won’t have the instinct to participate in this activity. If he continues to do so, however, this behavior may be due to his continued attempt to display his dominance over the dog, person or object in question.