What is a Dog’s True Nature?
Dogs are really surprisingly complex creatures and for you to have a good relationship with your dog you should learn a bit about their nature.
Dogs are descended from wolves and therefore have many of the same characteristics although some behaviors are a result of thousands of years of interaction with humans. Understanding these characteristics can make life with your dog easier.
Firstly, dogs are very social animals and thrive in a group or pack environment. In the wild, isolation is a form of punishment of the individual by the pack and not a comfortable state for your dog. While there are times when isolation for short periods can be used as part of training to stop unwanted behavior, locking your dog away for long periods will result in unwanted behavior problems.
Isolation from contact with humans and other animals invariably leads to fear, aggression and other forms of ‘bad’ behavior. Dogs need companionship in order to develop healthy behavior patterns. In any human-dog relationship, the human must be the alpha dog, the leader of the pack. Your dog must look to you for how to behave and you must be consistent in what you expect of your dog and what you teach him.
You know the saying “Curiosity killed the cat”? Well, dogs are also very curious animals and will explore their environment to the fullest. Unfortunately, they don’t know the limits of their environment (until you teach them) and will happily wander off to explore your neighbours garden.
Exploration, for dogs, involves more than looking and smelling, they love to taste and chew just about anything. This can be deadly for your dog. You must give him some healthy alternatives chew on and a safe area where he can explore and not cause damage to the yard or himself.
Digging is another part of exploring and in some dogs, like my terriers, is a very strong instinct. I have areas of the yard where I allow them to dig (where the mice are) and others where I stop them if they start which the rarely do. It doesn’t take them very long to have a two foot hole dug. I leave it until they lose interest (the mice have moved on) and then I fill it in and put some sod over it.
The reason my terriers dig is that dogs are predators and they are hunting the mice. They have incredible hearing and sense of smell and can tell if a mouse has been there in the last few days. They will quickly dispatch them when they can catch them. It’s not particularly pleasant to see them dispatch the mice or squirrels and if I can distract them long enough for the critters to get away so much the better. My dogs have had the thrill of the hunt. When they have been to fast for their prey, I grab their favourite treat and exchange the victim for the treat and praise them for giving up their prize. They have done nothing wrong – they are just doing their job.
One final trait I want to mention is that dogs are scavengers and will eat just about anything. Some favourites of my terriers are rabbit pellets (droppings), horse manure (apparently very tasty) and dead animals. They do not seem to associate what they eat with how they feel afterwards and will repeat the action that caused them to have an upset stomach over and over. Keep this is mind when trying to keep your dog safe and healthy.
If you have a good understanding of the true nature of your dog and work with in it rather than against you will find there is less frustration for both you and your dog.