Encouraging natural dog behaviors

Encouraging natural dog behaviors

Q: I read an animal welfare article that stressed the importance of allowing captive animals to express the behaviors that are natural for their species. The article explained what that means for zoo animals, but how does this concept translate to domesticated dogs?

A: Domesticated dogs want the opportunity to give and receive love, but those whose ancestors were bred for specific reasons also appreciate doing what their genes compel them to do.

Today’s dogs evolved from a wolf-like animal that hunted using seven distinct behaviors. In order, they are:

  • orienting toward the prey,
  • visually following the prey,
  • stalking the prey,
  • chasing,
  • using a grab-bite to capture the prey,
  • inflicting the kill-bite; and
  • consuming the prey.

Humans developed breeds for specific tasks by disrupting this chain of behaviors at certain places. For example, pointers assist their gun-bearing handlers by orienting toward, visually following and stalking their prey, but not chasing them. Terriers and other dogs bred for rodent control perform all the behaviors through inflicting the kill-bite, but they don’t consume their prey. Herding dogs manage their flocks by using all the behaviors through chasing, but they don’t grab-bite.

Many dogs enjoy sporting events designed for their breed. For instance, border collies participate in sheepdog trials, dachshunds in earthdog trials, and Irish wolfhounds in lure coursing. Such events improve the quality of life of these dogs by allowing them to exhibit their natural, ancestral behaviors.

Editor’s Note: Looking for toys for pets that are more than just fun? Here are five dog toys that have practical uses in reducing obesity, providing needed challenges, etc.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com

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