Harnessing Your Dog’s Instincts
All dogs have natural instincts, some are inherent to all dogs and some are more prevalent in certain breeds. Pure bred dogs are broken up into certain groups or categories usually because of their instincts and ability to work, or be lap dogs.
Herding dogs have been bred and developed for hundreds of years to herd and sometimes protect their flocks. Their desire and innate ability to direct stock has made them invaluable to livestock owners throughout the world. Herding dogs have extreme amounts of energy to assist them in working all day in every condition. Herding dogs are also often utilized to assist the police, military and secret service due to their protective instincts, drive, energy level, intelligence and desire to please.
Sporting dogs were developed to help hunters by using a number of different behaviors like pointing, flushing and retrieving game. Like herding dogs, sporting dogs are also bred to work all day in the field with their owners and because of that they have an excess of vigor to dispel!
Hounds are broken up into Sight Hounds: hunting with their eyes or Scent Hounds: hunting using their nose they also assist owners by treeing animals. Hounds are often more mellow but are ruled by their senses. They are often unable to ignore their instincts and therefore are not recommended to be off leash in unfenced areas.
Terriers are also a unique group, they were bred to hunt vermin especially mice, rats and rabbits. Some terriers are even designed to go down vermin holes in order to scare them up for hunters. They were bred to bark to alert their owners and also to scare the vermin they pursue.
Working dogs have been developed to accomplish a number of tasks, some were bred as war or protection dogs, some pulled carts, others pulled sleds, some guard and live with livestock. There is great variety in the jobs that the working dogs have been bred to perform.
However, most dogs in our day and age have become pets and due to hundreds of years of breeding and developing instincts, if their instincts are not dealt with they can become problematic. Most people want to subdue or suppress these instincts, however I believe in some case it is best to develop them and then learn how to control them.
Dogs need an outlet for their energy and what better way to wear them out than to teach them what their genetics are telling them to do!
At 7 years old, I finally took my dog to a herding trainer for a temperament test and some herd training. He excelled, it was amazing to watch his instincts kick in and to be able to develop that in him while controlling every move and aspect. He wasn’t out of control chasing sheep back and forth, he had to learn to listen to my every command, to lay down when asked, and to slow down and stop when told. I harnessed his instincts and can still use them to my advantage. If he were to want to chase a rabbit, dog, or child I have taught him to listen to me and obey my commands instead of engaging in naughty behaviors.
If you are having mild issues with your dog’s instincts I encourage you to look into developing those instincts with training and therefore being able to control them. This is also an essential way to burn off energy and develop your dog’s mind! Like putting barking on command and then asking for quiet, this will allow you to be in control of some of the behavior that may irritate you.
Dog games and competitions are almost limitless! Even if you have a mixed breed or you think your dog might have a propensity for a certain sport, look into it, not all dogs that herd have to be herding dogs!
There are all kinds of herding dog competitions for your herding dog, just find a kind and patient trainer to assist you with your training. Your dog will likely
have to pass a temperament test in order to ensure the livestock will not be injured and you will probably have to sign a release.
For sporting dogs there are gun dog trials, field trials, field tests, and bird dog challenges. There is also a sport called dock jumping where your dog is encouraged to jump as far as possible into a pool of water, it’s like the long jump for dogs!
For sight hounds there is lure coursing, where dogs chase a mechanical “bunny” or lure around a track for fun and for scent hounds there is tracking.
Terriers have competitions called earth dog trials where they are encouraged to go down a hole and follow the scent of a rodent (who is safely caged) and then bark at the prey when it is found.
Working dogs have sledding, skijoring, cart pulling, and weight pulling competitions for the macho dog!
It really doesn’t matter what you do with your dog, as long as he is willing and you are working toward a common goal together and training and using obedience. I once worked with an Anatolian Shepherd who lived with a Cheetah. The Cheetahs were brought to a field and encouraged to do lure coursing and chase the fake “bunny” for exercise and mental stimulation, however Kadir, the Anatolian, was often found enthusiastically chasing the lure around the course with complete joy and dedication. Kadir was a working dog, enjoying a sight hound sport, but he loved it!
The more you teach your dog and the more time you spend together the better your relationship will be and the better behaved your friend will be! It is all about learning to work with their instincts and learning to control them in a safe environment while teaching your best friend how fun life can be!
Get out there and spend some time together, and if you like it you can even compete! Have fun with your dog!
>NOTE: If you’re not quite ready to jump head first into some of these more advanced training classes, I think you’d find my Emotion Coaching For Dog’s program worth your while. It’s a program that’s focused on harnessing your dog’s emotions, and shows you how to use them in a more effective way to get your dog to be more calm and less out of control. You can learn more about that program here: Emotion Coaching For Dogs
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.