How Do Dogs Learn Weird Behaviors?   

Wondering how dogs learn weird behaviors? I know I was stumped trying to figure out how my adopted dog, Henry, learned some of his weird behaviors. He seemed like such a normal and well-behaved dog. Then all of a sudden he’d fluster me with weird antics. Sound familiar? Today, let’s dig in and discover whether or not dogs can learn weird behaviors from other dogs. And if an adult dog can learn from a puppy. Plus, I’ll reveal the science behind weird dog behaviors.

*Updated: April 17, 2024
a dog on a fence post exhibits how dogs learn weird behaviors
disclaimer note
Budget tip:

It can be a necessity at times to take your dog to the groomers or doggie daycare. But sometimes they will learn the strangest things in these environments. That doesn't mean you stop taking your dog to your friend's house or the groomer.

Actually, it simply means you may need to refreshen your dog's already learned behavior skills. I always think it's good for my dog, Henry and me to practice training every so often. So, when he learns some odd trait, it's a reminder to me.

Although, if you haven't been through at least basic training with your dog, then you'll definitely want to consider it. I always think knowing basic commands are well worth it for you and your dog. Both from a safety viewpoint as well as a bonding aspect with your dog. It's a budget winner! 

Not sure if your dog needs to go to the vet? In this article, I break down the top 33 signs you’ll get when it’s time to take your dog for a medical visit.

How do dogs learn?

There are a few ways dogs can learn. If you’ve ever been to dog training classes, you’ve most likely experienced at least one of these methods.

  1. Positive reinforcement (proper command or good behavior is positively enforced – think dog sits and gets a cookie treat reward)
  2. Negative reinforcement (an unwanted behavior or bad behavior is negatively enforced – think dog barks and receives a jerk of a leash)
  3. Analytical (remember those videos of a dog who carefully maneuvers a chair to reach a treat)
  4. Social learning (more on this in a bit)

Do you need to train your dog, but simply don’t have the time or money? In this article, I show you how to teach your dog basic skills on your time schedule and for free.

Is there any evidence that a dog can learn from another dog?

Yes, there is evidence. This type of learning is social learning. A great example is a St. Bernard teaching St. Bernard puppies how to rescue and care for lost travelers in the Alps. The dogs would sniff out snow-buried victims. Then they would determine which dogs would stay with the victim(s) and which ones would return to the monks for help.

Another example is a study of 50 Labrador Retrievers from the University of Naples. In this study, a trained Labrador Retriever was used as a demonstration dog to show other dogs two new commands. The results were that over 62% of the dogs correctly performed the new commands by watching the demonstrator dog. And more interesting for me with Henry, was that older adult dogs did even better on completing the desired dog behavior by simply observing the demonstrator dog.

Do you know that basic dog training can reduce your overall dog expenses? It’s true and in this article, I show you how.

What does it mean when dogs learn from dogs?

If your dog suddenly starts doing a new unwanted behavior you didn’t teach him or her there could be an explanation.

As an example, a few months after I adopted Henry, I had a friend watch him with her puppy. Henry and the puppy are really good friends. So, I didn’t think anything of it.

However, a few days later, Henry tried to bury his food. This was new and weird behavior. There was nothing to bury his bowl with or in but he certainly went through the motions like a crazed Tasmanian devil. I was puzzled. With dismay and puzzlement, I said to him to stop being weird and petted him. He stopped, looked at me, and ate his dinner as he normally would do each night.

A week or so later, I was talking with my friend. She asked how Henry was doing. I said great, except he was doing the weirdest thing, and explained the attempted food burying. She laughed and said her pup does it all the time.

Mystery solved! Henry picked up the weird little behavior while watching his playmate. Interestingly, on occasion, he’ll still try to bury his food. But I’ve figured out it’s because he wants a treat first or hasn’t finished playing outside yet. It’s basically a “Henry fit”. But with a gentle reminder and pet to let him know he’s not “King Henry”, he calms down and eats.

Is your dog digging holes in your yard? In this article, I share how to manage this behavior.

Is there a benefit to social learning for my dog?

While “doggie see doggie do” (or social learning) can elicit a weird or unwanted behavior like with Henry, it can also have a great benefit. Specifically, it can assist in training dogs. For instance, many pet owners insist it’s basically “rapid learning” to train a puppy with a well-trained adult dog. The puppy watches the adult dog and learns all the ins and outs of being a dog like how to:

  1. Use a doggie door
  2. Go potty outside
  3. Play with a toy
  4. Share toys
  5. Walk on a leash

Does your dog simply not like dog toys? In this article, I share what your dog really wants instead of toys.

And the list goes on. However, you still need to train your puppy or dog. But, the amount of time involved in training is often greatly reduced. Thus, puppies can be rapid learners with a well-behaved adult dog in their home.

Additionally, if your adult dog is lacking energy or is a bit depressed, the puppy can help the adult dog with these issues. I know Henry always gets a boost of energy when he’s playing with his puppy friend.

TIP: Keep in mind that if your puppy is a barker, your well-trained dog may have a lapse. But with easy steps or a simple reminder of positive reinforcement training, he or she should be able to overcome the unwanted behavior. Of course, this is assuming you’ve already solved this issue once. Although, any bad behavior of a well-trained dog can be amplified in the puppy. That’s the flaw in social training. You can’t limit it to just the desired traits.

Where else could my dog acquire social learning from other dogs? 

Basically, dogs learn from dogs anywhere they are for any amount of time. So, if you take your dog someplace to socialize with other dogs your dog could learn a new unwanted behavior. This could include:

  1. Work
  2.  Dog park
  3. Doggie daycare
  4. Friends, family, and dog community
  5. Groomers
  6. Dog walker

If your dog suddenly is exhibiting odd behavior and was just around other dogs, he or she could’ve learned a new trait.

TIP: However, if your dog has been around other dogs and is behaving weirdly, along with other symptoms, such as not wanting to eat, vomiting, diarrhea, or any physical ailments, call your vet immediately. It’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Are you still looking for a great vet? In this article, I share the secrets to finding the perfect vet for your dog and you.

One more odd note of caution. Dogs can also pick up on human body language and verbal cues. It seems to be built into dog DNA. So, if you’re digging in your yard, don’t be surprised to see your dog doing the same thing.

How does knowing about my dog’s weird behaviors save me money?

Basically it all comes down to knowing your dog. Moreover, what’s normal, what’s not normal, what’s a learned behavior. Of course, then it’s taking your dog to the vet if necessary. Or even teaching your dog better behaviors if necessary. Sometimes, it’s just knowing what your dog is doing and why can help.

As such consider the following possible expenses for a moment.

IssuePossible Cost
Digging (ruining flowers or other areas of your yard)$25 – 8,300
Barking (fines and possible jail time)$1,000
Nipping (legal liability, fines, or euthanized)$64,500+
Jumping (on someone resulting injuries)$64,500+
Vet visit$60 – 87
Dog behavioral visits$1,500 – 3,000
EscapingIMMEASURABLE!!!

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Summary of where does my dog learn weird behaviors?   

I know those odd and even weird behaviors that our dogs suddenly sport are confusing. But once you discover that they are little doggie see, doggie dos then it makes sense. Your dog, much like Henry, isn’t broken. He or she is just exhibiting social learning. I know I’ve even experienced social learning myself after being around different people who say certain words a lot. I’ll catch myself using the same words. Then I have to laugh at what a sponge the brain is for humans and dogs. The good news is that in most cases if your dog is trained you should know easy steps to unwind the weird behavior without much trouble.

a dog with a ball on his head shows how dogs learn weird behaviors

Have you ever caught your dog displaying a weird behavior, which threw you for a loop? Did you need to correct the behavior? 

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12 thoughts on “How Do Dogs Learn Weird Behaviors?   ”

  1. I really loved this article! Dogs are so much like kids, picking up behaviors or “copying” from others. With five Siberian Huskies, mine would definitely pick up from each other and copy, whether it was howling (one would, and the others would..one trying to be louder than the next! But I loved it!)…or playing with toys. Fortunately, no bad behaviors!

    Reply
    • Thank you! I’m really glad you liked this article. You are correct, dogs are like kids with their ability to learn quickly by watching. I have to say, you’re very lucky that your FiveSibes didn’t accidentally learn any bad or unwanted behaviors. Smart pups!

      Reply
  2. This is so true!! When we adopted Phoebe, she was approx 3 or so. I never needed to train her much at all, she picked up every habit and routine just from acutely observing my other dog Icy. I was amazed. She was like a copy machine LOL! Icy ended up picking up some not so desirable behaviors after attending doggy daycamp for several months.

    Reply
    • Awe, what a smart pup Phoebe was to learn from Icy. I’m hoping Henry can teach all his good behaviors to his next playmate and forget to pass on the bad ones. But I’m sure he’ll slip those in as well. You’re right, they can be a copy machine. Hopefully, only of the good stuff. 😉

      Reply
  3. This makes a lot of sense. I don’t have a dog however animals are so smart. They pick up on others’ behaviors like a sponge and learn to adapt. I know I’ve seen that when raising my two angel cats over the course of their lives.

    Reply
  4. Layla is really good, she does try bury her food but having read about it and been told it is normal for a dog to do I just let her do it, she eats after a couple of burying gestures. With age (15) she has become a barker and I am working on it but I also think with losing her sight it is out of fear so am trying to keep her quiet by talking to her each time. Dogs are really smart and do pick up on everything

    Reply
    • Layla is smart with picking up what she sees other dogs doing around her. You are probably correct that Layla is barking more since she can’t see as well. Generally, when one sense goes others seem to amplify. I had a horse who was mostly blind. But he had superb hearing. I could hear a whisper several acres away. That’s really a great observation on your part with Layla that she’s barking more. She’s probably hearing better, or if her hearing is not as good either, then she could be trying to figure out her “new world”. Give Layla a pet for Henry and me.

      Reply
  5. Years ago my husband and I adopted a puppy. The puppy learned a lot of good behaviors from my older dog. He was a fast learner, and in retrospect, I think a lot of it was because he had a good role model.

    Reply
    • Isn’t it funny how we don’t recognize things at the moment but we do with time? I do that a lot. I’m so glad your sweet dog taught your adopted puppy all the right behaviors. I love hearing these stories. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  6. Recently I have adopted a dog. I named him Russo. I find some odd behavior in him. I don’t know how he learned this. I don’t have previous experience with pets. I think that’s the reason for his learning odd behavior. I don’t know what to do now.

    Reply
    • Congratulations on adopting Russo! I admit it can be a little difficult to figure out where new dog behaviors are learned at first. Sometimes you don’t really need to know where the behavior is learned if it’s not a bad one.

      Although, if you are having a difficult time getting Russo to stop his learned behaviors, I would highly recommend finding a good dog trainer for assistance. You can find a great one in the oddest of places sometimes. Definitely ask around for recommendations and then look into how the trainer conducts training. Don’t forget to attend a class before you commit. But always remember if you don’t feel comfortable with a dog trainer, you have the right to get up and walk out at any point with your dog. A lesson I learned with my dog, Henry, and his first dog trainer.

      Henry and I, wish you and Russo all the best and many happy years together.

      Reply

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