This is the fourth article in the series about educating yourself about DOG OWNERSHIP

Canine Instincts and Behavior

      Oh Yuck, I’ve Done It Again !!

The secrets behind your dog’s day to day actions and eccentricities.

Let’s get started!

Why does my dog ignore my commands?

While there may be a variety of factors influencing a disobedient dog (illness, poor training by previous owners, the breed of dog, etc), it is often the case in a healthy canine that he or she is simply attempting to assert ‘dominance’ over an inexperienced dog owner or you are not familiar with communication techniques that will work.

In the case of the former, your dog wants to be the ‘pack leader’, and views you as a non-Alpha member of his pack! This desire to be Alpha-dog exists in both the male and the female, and is not limited just to big dogs. Even little dogs may try to assert dominance, although they’ll often do it in more subtle, manipulative ways or even with just outright aggression.

Some signs your dog is trying to ‘one-up’ you, or that you need some instruction about dog management:

  • Ignoring commands to ‘come’, ‘sit’, ‘stay’, etc. – remember that some breeds are not bred to obey commands, they are bred to think for themselves, for example, some hunting breeds. These breeds can be trained, but different methods need to be applied.
  • Refusing to eat or being a ‘picky’ eater – however, make sure there is no underlying physiological cause.
  • Whining to be picked up, held, or carried.
  • Jumping up on / off the furniture.
  • Shows of aggression during play or other times (not directly attributable to a threat or spotting of prey) when there is no known history of past abuse that could account for fear and/or aggression in your dog.

It is important to note that dominance displayed through aggression is more common among certain breeds of dogs. Most pet owners realize this for what it is because it is such a stereotypical behavior.

The subtler tactics, like whining for attention, jumping on furniture and arbitrarily ignoring commands, are often a dog’s way of “leading you around” without aggression. Once your dog learns that he can get you to give in from frustration, he will continue with the behavior.

Why does my dog need to sniff absolutely everything?

Your dog’s sense of smell is one of his survival tools. Far more developed than our human sense, your dog can ‘read’ a variety of information from the scents he picks up.

When your dog stops to sniff another dog’s bodily waste products, he can determine that dog’s sex, level of dominance, readiness to mate (if female), how long ago that other dog was in the area, and even some ‘psychological status’ cues about the other dog’s level of fear or contentment.

Some dogs are also known to perform the famous ‘crotch sniff’ on humans to gather similar information when the human is a stranger. Once a dog knows you, however, he or she is more likely to sniff your legs and armpits. No one is sure yet what the difference is between these two sources of scent-based information.

Why does my dog kick up dirt after ‘going to the bathroom’?

Both male and female dogs possess an instinctual drive to mark territory. Males, however, are more territorial as a general rule and more likely to display the ‘dirt-kicking’ behavior. You may find that desexed females become a bit more masculine and perform this ritual also, as well as performing a behavior similar to the male cocking it’s leg.

There are two reasons for this behavior, and both have to do with your dog’s desire to increase the likelihood of his territorial marker being noticed by another dog.

First and foremost, kicking up dirt and grass creates a visible change for another dog to notice and investigate. Second, your dog is releasing fresh, new scents from the ground that will catch attention. Both of these are ‘flags’ designed to catch the attention of other dogs and lead them towards the waste product.

Why does my dog like to roll around in things that stink?

Every dog owner has faced this scenario at one time or another:

You’re out for a pleasant walk when, all of a sudden, your dog races towards a pile of droppings, garbage or unknown dead thing, then he rolls around in it with perverse glee.

It’s not simply that your dog has bad taste in cologne!

Dogs prefer the smell of decomposing organic matter to hide their own scent from predators as well as prey; and apparently don’t have the same abhorrence for the smell as we humans do.

Why does my dog howl to certain types of music?

The short answer is:

Because he likes it! A dog’s range of hearing is similar to that of a human (about eight-and-a-half octaves), but slightly more refined. Your dog can distinguish differences in musical notes as small as 1/8th of a tone.

So, unless you’re playing music at unbearably loud levels, don’t worry …..  your dog is not howling from displeasure. Any sound (musical or not) that your dog dislikes will usually cause him to move to a quieter location.

Why does my dog howl at sirens?

Like sirenshowls contain high-pitched sounds, and scientists think that a dog howls when he hears a siren because the dog thinks he is hearing a howl from another dog. That is, the dog thinks he is communicating with another dog!

The American Kennel Club organization points to a good reason some dogs howl at sirens: it’s simply a throwback to their days (long ago) as wolves. Howling is not exclusive to pet dogs; wolves, as well as other pack animals, use howling as a form of communication and to specify / pin-point their location.

To them, sirens might sound like the faraway howl of another dog. A single howl leads to another, and before long you’ll hear a whole chorus of the neighborhood dogs responding to each other.

The right noise will get a dog lifting his nose and woo-woo-wooing to naturally return the call of the wild. (Beagles, basset hounds and the northern wolf-like breeds, by the way, are more prone to this sort of howling.)

Some dogs howl as a way of saying to other dogs, “I’m lonely.” Since canines are used to living in packs, their humans constitute their pack these modern days.

If the noise is excessive, it is probably from boredom and loneliness. Lavishing your dog with some extra pet treats, exercise and a little extra attention should reduce his urge to howl.

Why does my dog get along with the other household pets, yet chase the ones in the neighborhood…especially the cats?

It is well known that dogs can live with a variety of other creatures, including cats, especially when introduced to them at a young age. Even some older dogs just have a gentler disposition and will befriend cats, birds, rabbits and more, taking them in as part of the ‘pack’.

As you are their pack leader, if you introduce a new pet into the household your dog should learn to tolerate it initially and eventually accept it as another pack member. Depending on how the new pet adjusts into it’s new “pack” it may be dominant or subordinate to your existing dog over time.

Strange animals, however, aren’t afforded this tolerance. Anything that is furry and running away from your dog outside is, in your dog’s mind, fair game. Sometimes it is just their chase instinct reacting and that is all it will be, but with some dogs (and breeds) there is still a strong chase and capture instinct that can lead to a kill.

It is often dog size / speed related as to whether a chase could lead to a kill. While some experts are of the opinion that some breeds have a stronger kill instinct it is often arguable as to whether that is the case or it is related to the physical variables of the breeds in question. A rollie pollie Labrador, for example might be just as prone to exhibit prey kill instincts as, say a greyhound. But it is slow so probably won’t capture the prey and if it did it has a “soft” mouth with a jaw that isn’t all that powerful so it would probably have little chance of “following through. A sight-hound like a greyhound is super-fast and has an incredibly strong bite so is an efficient hunter, although no more likely to display these instincts than any other breed. Lucky these “efficient” breeds are among the biggest softies of any breed so their “weapons” are of little danger to people.

One should be careful, though, even where other household pets are concerned. Your dog and cat, for example, might be the best of friends most of the time – but this does not preclude your dog’s hunting/chasing instincts from being triggered if the other pet exhibits ‘prey behavior’. Fights can also occur over “food arguments” so be very careful and organized at feeding time.

Generally you will find that actual hunting breeds are very lazy and it is usually the “I wish I was a hunter” breeds that might be more prone to this behavior.

What’s up with all these holes my dog is digging in the yard? Should I give him something to bury?

Dogs dig holes mainly by instinct. This is their way of storing and hiding food in the wild. Domesticated dogs still retain this instinct, but don’t act on it as often because they are being fed on a regular basis.

If your dog seems to dig excessively, there’s a good chance he’s just bored. Digging is good exercise, and he enjoys all the new smells being unearthed. Try giving him a bone to bury in-between meals if he’s a casual digger. If he’s tearing up the whole yard, try to schedule more vigorous exercise into play time.

Some breeds are worse than others at different ages. It is something that becomes less common with age with some breeds, while other breeds never seem to grow up. It can also be breed related. Some breeds were created to “go to ground” after prey. They were expected to dig out a rabbit or a rat for example. If your breed or mixed breed has these “digging genes”, then expect it to be more of a digger.

EXERCISE …. is the main cure, maybe the only cure? Or look for one of the lazy breeds who would rather laze around on a comfy sofa or dog bed in the house all day than engage in such shenanigans. Often these breeds need to be coaxed out of their comfy place even for a walk. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to take them for a walk, it just means that they won’t drive you mad with their over-exuberance.

You will also find that many local dog clubs have specific sporting activities for these “grounders” the same as many breeds have the opportunity to play the hunter in the sport of lure coursing or other activities related to the origins of specific breeds.

are you still with us?  ……  YOU STILL WANT A DOG! …… O.K. then keep on reading ….. in Part 5 “COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT DOG BEHAVIOR – PART 2” we will now answer some common questions about dog emotions and reproductive urges.

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“growing with your best friend and companion”