Nature blessed your dog with a set of instincts. Each one of these instincts is linked to survival of the species, whether it be the instinct to hunt prey, reproduce or protect the pack. Understanding these behaviors helps you bond with, train and enrich your dog every day.
Every puppy has the innate urge to suckle at his mom’s teat. Without this instinct, the pup would not feed and would simply starve to death. Even before they open their eyes for the first time, puppies know to find the teat and suckle.
At around 6 months old, your dog sheds his first set of teeth. Much like a human baby, the process of the new teeth coming through hurts your dog. To relieve this, the pup chews. Toys, rawhide and dental sticks are ideal for him to relieve his teething pain. Your new pair of designer shoes aren’t. Keep valuable items out of reach.
Dogs are hardwired to avoid physical conflict. Scent marking is just one of the many ways they do this. By leaving a scent on a lamppost, couch or woodland tree, the dog is saying, “Hey, this is my territory. Find somewhere else.” The dog sniffing the scent either moves on or covers the scent with his own. Dogs that constantly pee in the house are typically marking their territory.
The dog’s strongest sense is smell. He can learn a lot about his environment just by taking a big whiff of the air. When you’re training your dog, you can use his sense of smell to stimulate him. Hide a food treat in your hand and only release it when he performs the action you want, such as sitting or laying down.
As social pack animals, play informs much of the canine learning experience. All dogs have a play drive, but that instinctive need to play is stronger in certain dogs. Dogs establish hierarchy and set boundaries through play. Remember, next time you see Lucky and Fido going at it enthusiastically and making lots of noise, they are learning about each other. Don’t disrupt play unless it becomes too rough.
Barking, Whining, Growling and Howling
Dogs have a wide and varied vocabulary. Barks can mean lots of things, such as, “Hey mom, there’s an intruder,” or “Hey dog on the other side of the street, I see you. Stay out of my yard!” Whining can signify anxiety, loneliness, hunger, discomfort, pain and confusion. When a dog growls, it can be playful or a sign of aggression. His body language indicates which he is trying to communicate.
Through the process of selective breeding, man strengthened certain instincts and weakened others, according to the job the dog was needed to perform. So some breeds display strong innate behaviors specific to themselves and related breeds. For example, retriever breeds including Labradors instinctively fetch, border collies and related sheep and cattle dogs instinctively herd, and guardian breeds like Rottweilers instinctively protect.
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