Understanding your dog’s instincts

Published 10:31 pm Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sometimes when someone signs up for obedience classes they describe their dog as hyperactive and in bad need of training.

After some questioning we find out they have a labrador retriever and that it spends eight hours a day in its cage while they work, eight hours in the cage while they sleep, and three hours in the cage while they take their child to Little League games or go out with friends.

That adds up to 19 hours in the cage and five hours in the backyard.

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The five hours in the backyard is usually alone without any mental stimulation or without true exercise. The owners want to train the “hyperness” out of them, when in reality they just don’t understand what they are bred to do and do not understand they have the instincts to be out with their hunter-master retrieving game.

Terriers, for example, were not only bred to hunt rodents and vermin down holes, but to also fight back, if needed. Terriers are known to act bigger than they are.

These breed traits explain their feisty behavior such as digging or chasing small animals.

This would include breeds like yorkies. Yorkies may look cute, but like any other terrier, yorkies will instinctively chase and may even nip at small children and other animals. While you can’t remove genetic traits, you can give them acceptable ways to expel their energy.

Teach them it is acceptable to chase toys and self control through obedience training.

Owners of herding breed dogs such as a German shepherd, notice their dog “rounding up” family members. Herding and working dogs are happiest when given a specific purpose or job. Tracking or service jobs are good things to look into. If you do not give them a job, they will pick their own job, which you probably will not like.

One time I heard that a German shepherd decided to hunt down and remove all the sprinkler heads in the yard.

These types of dogs do not only need exercise they need structured mental stimulation. Things like food filled puzzle toys can fill that mental activity need.

Gung-ho guardians, such as doberman pinchers and rottweilers were bred to fulfill one of the earliest canine jobs, protecting the home, livestock, and other property.

Because of this they are very independent, have a strong sense of territory, and have a willingness to stand watch.

Socialization is the key inside and outside of the home to keep them from being suspicious of all strangers. Their watchdog instinct will remain intact, but their confidence and discernment will improve with outside exposure.

Understanding your dogs instincts will help you know how and where to channel their bred-in energy.

Instead of resenting your dog’s “bad” traits, embrace them as part of who they are and learn ways to satisfy their needs.

Remember, every dog deserves to be treated like a show dog.

Tony Barker, The BARKer Shop