Among the variety of odd and not-so-odd behaviors dogs engage in, kicking the back legs against the ground may be one that dog owners are often questioning about. Do dogs scratch the ground to clean their rear paws? Are dogs trying to bury their pee or poop just like cats do? Or are they perhaps just having a “kick” by acting mischievous trying to send dirt in their owners faces? Turns out, dogs may have their own set of valid reasons to kick back with their back legs. Of course, until dogs can talk and give us their own personal explanations, we can only make assumptions. So here are some interesting “pawssibilities” behind this curious behavior.
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A dog’s nose rules and plays quite a big role in many doggy behaviors, from sniffing the ground to sniffing other dogs’ rears, to even kicking back with the hind legs right after peeing or pooping. But what does a dog’s nose have to do with dogs kicking back dirt with their back legs?
No, scratching the dirt is not a dog’s way to disperse scent or bury any traces as cats do, actually, the total opposite. When dogs kick up a storm of dirt after finishing with their business, they are actually leaving a message rather than setting a cover-up, explains veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman.
Dogs have several scent glands (interdigital glands) on their feet, so when they are kicking the dirt, it’s likely that they are trying to leave behind their scent for other dogs to detect.
Interdigital glands are used for marking, but are also used for alarm, explains veterinarian Dr. Bonnie V. G. Beaver in the book “Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers.”
Perhaps this provides another facet as to why stressed dogs tend to sweat from their paws. Along with the sweat, they may be leaving behind important “alarm messages” giving other dogs a “head’s up” about the presence of a threat!
A Matter of Vision
Sure, dogs rely a whole lot on scent, but their eyes are quite important too! There are therefore chances that when a dog kicks back dirt with his hind legs he may also be trying to leave some sort of visual marking as well.
According to a study conducted by Marc Bekoff, in the case of dogs scratching the ground with their back feet there are actually two different visual displays at play: the act itself of scratching the ground with the back legs which can grab the attention of other dogs, and the traces left in the substrate which act as visual markers.
Ian Dunbar, describes such visual marks as functioning in a similar fashion to some sort of arrow, telling dogs to follow the end of the line of scratched dirt to find the urine. This disrupted terrain along with its scent and presence of poop or pee found just a little bit further, therefore helps put put an emphasis that “Rover was here.”
Kicking the dirt with back legs is not always a part of a dog’s elimination routine. As with everything dog related, there are never rules written in stone as dogs are individuals with their own little behavior quirks.
Dog owners therefore report that their dogs may also scratch up dirt when they are sniffing scent left behind from some other dog or perhaps some other animal. In this case, one may wonder whether the kicking up dirt behavior may be a way for the dog to mark over the scent, just as he would do with urine or feces.
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What about dogs who seem to kick their legs when they are excited? Some dog owners report seeing their dogs kick their hind legs like bulls do just before charging. This behavior is often affectionately called by dog owners “the happy dance” as it often happens when dogs are about to start playing or know they are about to go on a walk.
And what about dogs who kick their back legs when barking? This seems like another of those behaviors that grant more research, until then, just make sure to be safe from any flinging mud, dirt, and debris!
Watch this Dog Kick up Dirt With a Passion!
Ground Scratching by Male Domestic Dogs: A Composite Signal, by Marc Bekoff, Journal of Mammalogy (1979): Puppy’s First Steps: The Whole-dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy …By Nicholas H. Dodman, Lawrence Lindner, Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, By Bonnie V. G. Beaver, Saunders; 2 edition (January 5, 2009)