4 ways your dog's primitive instincts make him misbehave
Dogs are hardwired to be bad. No. I didn't mean that to sound that way! I meant: A lot of the behaviour we consider bad in dogs is derived from instinctive self preservation mechanisms that take teaching, time and patience to change. Our dogs are each born into their canine families perfectly adapted to behave like dogs for their entire lives. If we want them to behave in ways that are acceptable to humans, then we have to actively teach them. Here are just a few examples of instinctive behaviour that is easier to prevent than change later on: Separation anxiety related behaviour (ie barking, howling and chewing holes in doors and walls while you go out). Taking a tinkle on the dining room chair. Barking lunging or chasing passing dogs, cyclists, horses, people. Destroying one of each of your shoes. The same instincts that make our dogs the amazing companions that they are are the ones that underly most of the dog behaviour that we consider to be bad. How can that be?
- Dogs have lived alongside humans for at least 32000 years, but the same instincts that have kept their wild cousins alive and well in spite of human interference over those years are the ones that dogs easily revert to when they are put in situations that they aren't used to. All canines have a basic instinct to seek out and keep company. Part of this is what we call love and loyalty, but a good part of this hunger for company is caused by a survival instinct. Dogs are a prey species to many larger predators. Coyotes, wolves and cougars are all known to hunt lone dogs just like they would hunt any deer or rabbit. Dogs that stay with a their family pack are safer. Dogs that seek company survive, so all dogs have evolved for countless generations to seek out company. This basic dog instinct is the one that makes many dogs anxious if we leave them alone, unless we introduce being by themselves gradually from a young age.
- Pups and even some adult dogs have accidents in the home if they feel insecure (pack disappears without them), or if they are in a new environment, or if they just aren't clear on the whole concept of eliminating outdoors instead of indoors. Instinct tells them to go in approximately the same spot every time, where the rest of the pack will be sure to find it. Wild canids do this as a way of finding their way home, and to tell unfamiliar dogs exactly who lives there. This instinct gets mixed up when people scold or punish a pup when they catch him eliminating indoors. He learns it's not safe to squat in front of you, so when you take him outside to do his business, he won't produce. Instead of scolding or punishing your puppy for accidents, quickly interrupt and then immediately take him outside and run him around until he begins to look for a spot. Praise like mad when he goes.
- Dogs steal food from counters because dogs are, by nature, opportunistic scavengers. They live with, and (being social animals) instinctively learn their social behaviour from their human family. Puppies see the rest of the family eating from tables and taking food from kitchen countertops, so why wouldn't they want some of that action too? Of course the only way around this is by actively showing them that it's way better for them to have food off the floor than the counter, and don't leave any food unattended on the kitchen counters until they learn this.
- Adult dogs instinctively consider everything they didn't get a warm, fuzzy feeling about as pups to be a potential threat. This instinct keeps feral dogs from approaching things that really do pose a danger If they didn't get used to being other dogs in a positive way at a young age, many dogs treat other dogs as a potential threat. Same goes for people on skateboards, umbrellas, bicycles, loud noises and a myriad of other things. Scientific research in the 1960's found that pups introduced in a positive way to a variety of environmental stimuli before they are 16 weeks turned out to be easy going, happy dogs when they grow up. Food is a great way to break the proverbial ice for puppies being introduced to different things whether it's a crate, a skateboard or a friendly dog. Get your puppy used to being left on his own slowly and gradually too, so your absence from home doesn't elicit instinctive panic.