How Best To Deal with Your Dog’s Instincts

Dogs aren’t people.

I realize that deep down you probably know that dogs aren’t people.

And, yet almost every day I have a conversation with humans who expect dogs to ACT like people.

Dogs are canines descendants of wolves and other ancient dog species (yes, I don’t think the Chihuahua developed from a wolf, but that is for another article).

Wolves aren’t people.

Wolves are, well, wolves.

The problem is that dogs have evolved to live with us, and we have selectively bred them to perform a multitude of tasks to assist us in easier living.

Although most people don’t depend on the skills and training of their dogs for their livelihood, there are still people living in Alaska who depend on their sled dogs in order to feed their families.

And, there are many ranchers who depend on their dogs for their livestock and livelihood.

Again, these dogs and dog breeds have been selectively bred to assist us, humans, in the tasks that we need to master to be successful.

Most Dogs Are House/Pet Dogs

Now, the problem is that these dogs and breeds, having been bred to accomplish certain tasks (hunting, herding, sledding, protection, K9, carting, ratting etc.) have made their way into homes of people who have no knowledge or no desire to give the dog the training it needs to be happy.

The average Siberian Husky owner, is not hooking up a sled or a dryland scooter to have the dog pull.

The average Australian Shepherd owner is not taking his/her dog out for 14 hours a day to move sheep or cattle.

And, the average Jack Russell owner doesn’t want their dog to bring in dead rats or other rodents.

Suddenly the majority of dogs in our country are house pets, but the problem remains that they still have these pesky things called instincts.

Most people find these instincts irritating at best.

And, they have no desire to teach and control the instinct.

I wish that these people would find carting or weight pulling classes for the Husky, herding classes for the Aussie, and barn hunt classes for the Jack Russell.

A Sniffing Beagle

Let’s take a sniffing Beagle.

I think we all know that Beagles were bred for their unique sense of smell, and their ability to hunt.

The average Beagle will never hunt.

However, all Beagles have a desire to sniff, it is their instinct.

But most owners don’t want to be pulled from one place to another while the dog sniffs and vigorously pulls.

I am a firm believer that teaching a dog to utilize their instincts on cue (teaching the Beagle to track) then gives you more control of the behavior when you don’t want the dog to show it.  For more on teaching your dog to track click here “So, You’ve Got a Sniffer Why Not Teach Him to Track; Part 1” 

If I allow my Beagle to track once or twice a day, I am allowing him to “be a Beagle” and fulfilling his needs and I can also then tell him when not to sniff or follow a track so that we may have a peaceful walk and work on obedience.

Herding Dogs perro y rebaño

Recently, I have gotten several emails from individuals who have herding dogs, but don’t want their dogs to herd (the kids, the cats, and everything else in the house).

I have written a very successful article on Co-habitating with a Herding Dog

I can totally understand and empathize.

However, a herding dog herds and if you don’t want him to herd you must teach him not to do so.

Have you ever seen a herding dog move sheep?

They don’t go out into the sheep pen with no obedience and no skills.

These dogs are methodically taught and shaped to move the sheep to the left, to the right, forward, go behind, and drop on a dime at the whistle or command of the owner.

That’s right, these dogs have to lay down immediately on command, and they must stop herding when told.

They aren’t chasing and biting at the heels of the sheep with no purpose, and scattering them throughout a field is counterproductive.

And, if these dogs can be taught to move these sheep so methodically then the average pet dog can be taught to lay down and also not herd on command.

It Takes Effort

But, it takes effort.

Would I like to see the majority of herding dogs in herding classes?


I think then, and only then do people truly understand and respect the animal with which they share space!

I think most all dogs should find a way to utilize their instincts.

And, teaching a dog to herd on command, actually teaches control (since as I mentioned the dog isn’t just allow to chase and scatter sheep).

But, even if the person doesn’t want to invest time and money into herding training, they can still get the same kind of control but it takes training!

These dogs must be put on leash when children, other animals, scooters or other things appear that they might want to herd.

They must be taught what to do instead of following their instincts to chase.

They don’t pop out of the womb knowing the commands and the control it takes to herd these sheep, they don’t start out moving the sheep and laying down patiently waiting for more information.

Instead, they are born with the instinct to move and chase.

Everything else must be taught and sculpted by their human partner.

I Have Herding Dogs

a border collie sheepdog isolated on a white backgroundI have herding dogs!

And, I have herding dogs that want to herd!

But, when I don’t want them to herd I put them on a leash and give them an incompatible behavior.

For instance, if my dog wants to chase the children who are playing in the back yard, I am going to put her on a leash and teach her instead to do a down stay at my feet.

She can’t do a down stay AND herd.

And, when she is successful I reward her with either a tasty treat, a bone to chew on (while she continues to lay down), or a game of ball.

What I must remember is that I have to reward often, because it is hard to go against instincts.

A dog that is learning to herd, is rewarded by getting to move sheep.  That is worth listening for them!  That is a very larger reward!

You have to try and find something equally rewarding.  A small piece of kibble probably isn’t going to do it; but going out front to play Frisbee or ball will probably be worth it!

And, as you add the FUN of games and great rewards to your training, you will see your dog enjoy listening to you; because it is rewarding.

What if You Don’t Have Time

So what if you don’t have time to take your dog out on leash to watch the children play while you work on obedience, control, and fun reward?

Don’t put your dog in that position!

If you can’t teach your dog manners, put him or her in his crate or in another room until you can devote time to training.

Habits, like herding and nipping at the kids, are very hard to break.  So allowing the dog to do it sometimes but not others will be trying for everyone involved!

Instead keep it from happening when you can’t be there to work and control it.

And, eventually, you will be able to give the command (down) or you will rest at peace knowing that the dog knows what to do when the kids play, instead of the bad behavior you are hoping to avoid.

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  1. Shannon says:

    I think dryland pulling, or bikejoring, is becoming much more popular at the moment, partially for huskies and malamutes, but also many other breeds that are not traditionally pulling dogs. I’m also seeing it’s more and more common for owners to find some sport to do with their dog, particularly agility, as well as disc, herding, etc. most likely because they want to find an easy way to exercise their dog. That’s my understanding anyway.


  2. Suzanne says:

    I don’t think that behaviors are good or bad. Take jumping on people for example, to a human that is bad behavior, but to a dog it is natural.
    Humans have to learn to speak dog. The best way to teach a puppy not to jump on you, is to cross your arm and look away. Dogs can’t do two behaviors at the same time, so teach her what you want.


  3. Jeanine says:

    i love your way with animals and have been able to teach my dog a lot but the one thing i can’t seem to break is jumping up on visitors. I’ve tried everything like putting her out then when calm bring her in and straight away she is jumping up and so excited she scratches at you. please help


    Minette Reply:

    Put a leash on her and teach her what you want.


  4. I have a 6 month old Bichon Frise that is a jumper, people,furniture or just bounce up and down. I try to ignore him, but will try Shannln’s method.I try to ignore him, but haven’t folded my arms across my chest.



  5. Pat says:

    I look forward to your above mentioned article concerning Chihuahua’s decendancy. I have rescued Chihuahuas 2 different times in my life.


  6. julie says:

    we have a black lab that is just over a year now and he has the habit of jumping up on the chain lick fencing when anyone comes close wha can i do


    Minette Reply:

    Take him out and put him on leash and teach him not to jump on the fence, or you can look into invisible fencing inside your perimeter.


  7. Connie hurt says:

    The jumping is a problem I’ve battled with Kira, our lab/Pitt, and with 2 other dogs who are also vying for attention, it’s been hard to do it consistently. However, not only do I ignore the pup who’s jumping, I make an ongoing effort to love on the one who’s sitting “pretty” while I ignore the other….and rub both if they’re both behaving (a challenge when . They follow me everywhere and they’re constantly sitting down and just looking at me and waiting for their praise/attention–it’s hysterical sometimes–like they’ve turned the tables and they’re the ones training ME to get what they want. I’ll let them think that if it keeps them behaving…..😆


  8. Betty says:

    I have a Cocker/King Charles mix. What were these breeds bred for, and how can I control these instincts and still allow her some times during the day to “Be her breed?” I like the idea of making an agility obstacle course but am not sure exactly what should be in it. Any ideas?


  9. Jan Schilling says:

    I have a 3 1/2 yo Rescue Black Lab/Dane/Pit Bull.that I got at 6 months. She is about the smartest dog I have ever owned. I began with her immediately and worked all day/every day on and off with the simple sit, down, come commands.I found that if i remained calm, used a quiet, but assertive voice, she accomplished that command perfectly…excitement frazzles her. I can get her to leave intense play with her favorite thing from inside the house, by tapping the window with my finger nail….she will drop or stop whatever she is into and come running, right up to my feet and sit looking up at me! Proud of her, yes i am!. She is very sociable with everyone she meets which are a lot of people, loves children and other dogs, big and small. Her favorite thing is swimming which she only does when i permit her to do so.
    She will dive on command or swim when called in….keeps the wet spots in the house down to none. She is alert, and protective. She will bark to let me know someone is here, and will continue to do so till I open the door to them, and she magically stops. I feel in charge and she believes i am!


  10. I have 3 toy poodles and 1 standard poodle all rescued. One or two of my toys has started to pee in the house at the same 3 spots. They have all been house trained for years, and we have a doggie door open to a half acre fenced-in yard. I’ve tries sprays, moving objects, even pee pads. Nothing works. Any ideas? ???


    Minette Reply:

    Whenever there is a significant change in behavior like this, I recommend a trip to the vet. One of your dogs may very likely have a bladder infection.


  11. Alice says:

    I have an American Bulldog that barks when someone is at the door and he will continue to bark until I tell him to go to his kennel.


  12. Susan Schwirck says:

    I have rescued a dog that I’m told is part chihuahua (perhaps long haired, since he has long hair) and part unknown. Although I’ve owned all sorts of dogs (poodles large and small, goldens, German short hair, visla, cairn, sheltie), I’m not at all familiar with chihuahuas. I’m curious to learn what you have to say about the breed’s characteristics and why you think they aren’t descended from wolves.


    Minette Reply:

    because Chihuahuas look nothing like wolves, not by any stretch of the imagination and it is documented by anthropologists


  13. jan says:

    What do I do with a golden retriever who loves to swim so much he can’t be let off a leash to do it. We live near a big lake and we have to hold his leash and walk back and forth to allow him to swim because if we let him off he will just keep swimming and not come back. The lake is 22 x 11 miles. We have to tie him to the sailboat when we sail so he won’t jump off. He is only 3 but all my other dogs retrieved a stick and kept coming back. He is not at all interested in retrieving or returning.


  14. Tanya Lerm says:

    What behavior (skills/classes) would you recommend for a Pit bull?


    Minette Reply:

    Weight pulling, and then it depends what your dog wants to do, maybe nose work or find something else he/she likes


  15. Alyssa says:

    I read your article and most identified with the portion about breaking habits. My 4 year old is OBSESSED and IN LOVE with our rescue dachshund mix. Being a rescue, we don’t know much about him. He’s about a year old, is a definite dachshund but may have some yorkie or poodle or cocker spaniel in him. He snaps and sometimes growls at my 4 year old which breaks my heart because she loves him so much. I also have a (barely crawling) 8 month old and I’ve recently read that his breed is terrible with children. I’m terrified now. What do you suggest? I’m at a loss. If I can train him myself I would be happy to put in the effort–as he loves me and my husband and is super sweet. I’m very concerned about the cost or being conned if I go to an obedience school since I don’t know what to look for or if they know what they’re doing. Bottom line, my little girl loves this dog. It’s devestatibg to see her confused at why he’s growling or snarling at her. I’ve taught my kids to respect the dog, not bother him when he eats, Etc. but my crawling baby sometimes doesn’t know better and as much as I try I can’t be everywhere all the time… I’m completely lost. I’ve got to figure out how to make them both comfortable with each other.


    Minette Reply:

    With a baby and an aggressive dog it is time to find a veterinary behaviorist. The vet needs to come over and see the behavior and determine how much danger the dog poses to your baby.

    This is much cheaper than hospital visits or a scar that will last a lifetime.

    And, I would NEVER leave them unattended. If the baby is crawling… I would crate the dog.


  16. Pat says:

    Has the. Chihuahua article been writen? Would love to read it!


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