Harnessing Your Dog’s Instincts

A Dog Enjoying a Weight Pulling Competition

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.

Lure Coursing

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!

My "Nix" patiently waiting on a "Down" to enter the Sheep's lair !

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

Carting can be a super fun sport!

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!

Earth Dog Trials are fun for your little terror!

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


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  1. Heaven knows that more dog owners out there can certainly use more education on dog training. And yes, dogs do like training as it is not only mental stimulation for them, but it represents quality time together. Great photo of the dog cart by the way.


  2. Karen says:

    Hi Chet that was an interesting article, but not direct enough for me. specifically what are Chihuahuas spific instincts. I know they are fiesty and think they are bigger than any other dog. Mine is a sweetheart but scared to death of my hisband for some unknown reason, he was the one who wanted her in the first place, but she addopted me instead. I have never really had a dog so I am learning and want to know how to inhsnce our relationship using her natural instincts. I love your newsletters!


    Minette Reply:

    You might enjoy this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chihuahua_(dog) Chihuahuas are mostly bred now as lap dogs and companions, but take a look at your individual dog and see what kind of sport he might be interested in, perhaps some agility, or even some earth dog trials, since Chihuahuas of old were hunters! Often it is all about the individual!


  3. Susan says:

    I have a Yorkie/Fox Terrier and he is a sniffer. That instinct in him is soooo strong! He is in training classes but, controlling his smelling even during training sessions is difficult at times. I have been using the word “focus” with him and it doesn’t seem to help. Any suggestions? Thanks!!


    Minette Reply:

    Yes! I recommend getting eye contact and you have to keep him from sniffing while you are training. Use excellent tasty morsels to keep his eyes on you and praise him when he does so!

    Also harness those sniffing instincts by teaching him to use his nose (read my nose work articles), that will allow him to use his instincts when it is appropriate and listen to you when it is time to train!


    Susan Reply:

    Where can I find the nose work article?


  4. Rob says:

    I have a 6 month lab who absolutely bolts towards humans. Unfortunately not all humans love him the way the humans who have met him at our house have.How do I control that urge in lieu of sending him to herding training?


  5. Laurie says:

    I’ve been researching games and activities for dogs. My dog is a mixed breed I got from the SPCA. We know his mother is Papillion, but not sure of the father. One vet thinks he is lab and border collie mix. He is the size of a border collie and a coat like a border collie. He just turned one. Here is what I would like some suggestions for.I just can’t seem to figure out what he truly enjoys, it seems mixed. He does not like fetch. He loves to chase and be chased. He is not very interested in large animals (he has seen moose, deer, and horses, with little reaction). He loves to chase birds. I seen him point a couple of times. He likes tug o war. He will try to herd my cats, or if I tell a cat “NO, you can’t go outside”, he goes and pushes the cat away from the door. He is in agility, but he is easily distracted by scents. When we walk I allow him sniffing time, which his nose is constantly to the ground. If I say “sniff,sniff” he just gets happy and does just that.
    I saw some deer once, which he did not see, but when he got close he zigged zagged all the way down the trail where they had just left. So, I’m guessing he likes to track (and some herding), how do I set up games for him? We have below zero weather approx. 9 months a year. It does not get light in winter until 9:00 am and goes dark around 5:00 pm. I NEED some ideas or sites that can help me keep him busy this winter, or a way to figure out what his instincts are?


  6. sharon walker says:

    i have a black lab/blood hound 6 month puppy – a recsue form alabama
    he has been very difficult to train but i have him coming to me 3/4 of the time when he is outside in our fenced in yard. but there are times when he will sit and look at me like he is in deep thought – trying to decide if he really wants to come to me. how can i correct that. also my biggest problem is that he likes to dig holes under the fence and go exploring, he needs to be outside to RUN and play VERY OFTEN – HE HAS A HIGH LEVEL OF ENERGY, so how do we keep him inside of the fence when we are busy. we have repaired fences and then he finds another place to escape or he will jump the fence.how can i keep him safe and inside our fence???



  7. Gowthm says:

    I have two mongrels as pets. I have the habit of feeding them cookies whenever possible, so they know me pretty well. When they see me they casually stretch the front legs as if to crack their joints. I dont know if this is some behavior seeking cookies!


  8. Laurie says:

    Me again. I wrote comment # 5. Well, I put a harness on my dog and tied an old leash to the harness, then attached a 1 liter milk jug full of frozen water at the other end and let him pull it. At first he balked at this thing following him but after a block he didn’t even notice it. I took him to a field and just said “go, go, go” and guided him with a leash on his collar, and oh boy did he go. He loved it. I think he will love to pull a sled have to try that yet. I’m getting a new puppy in a month, another mixed breed. Lab/Rottie mix. She will be a companion for my male lab/border collie mix and another family member for me. I am going to try to train them both to pull and then we can go sledding (did I mention I hate winter). Of course I have to be careful with the young one, don’t want to hurt her body by getting her to do things she’s not old enough for yet. I don’t even let my first dog (16 months) jump very high yet, I read that for high jumping (like frisbee) you should really wait until they are fully developed in their bones and muscles. So because of my love for my dog I MUST learn to enjoy winter (he does). It’s amazing what you can buy at a thrift store. I buy all my pet blankets and rags there. I bought a nice warm full of pockets dog walking coat. So cheap, and if anything gets ruined from playing with the dog, who cares, it was cheap. Just an idea for others needing a dog walking/playing uniform.


  9. kelley kearns says:

    i was wondering how can i find classed for cart pulling in the area i live


    Minette Reply:

    Look at the organizations for carting, and then look for clubs in your area. Google search would probably be the best


  10. Andi says:

    ‘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.’

    I am at my wits end – my dog is muzzled when out but will chase sheep at the tiniest opportunity – how do you train the dog to listen to you & not his instinct?

    Thank you.


    Minette Reply:

    I’m guessing he is not on a leash? Now which would you choose… listening to your owner or chasing sheep if you were a dog?

    The problem is he is getting the option to chase sheep. A leash keeps him from it, and obedience that is fun and rewarding will keep him listening.

    This is how you teach dogs to HERD other animals… you keep them on a leash and teach them appropriate behaviors and reward good behaviors and choices. But no herding trainer just lets a dog loose and hopes it does the right thing.

    As with anything you need to teach and control; read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/rewarding-lesson-letting-dog-run-free/


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