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.
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
I 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.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.