Dogs really are surprisingly complex creatures and in order to have a good relationship with your dog, you should learn a little bit about their nature.
Dogs are descended from wolves and therefore share many of the same traits, although some behaviors are the result of thousands of years of interaction with humans. Understanding these traits can make living with your dog easier.
First, dogs are very social animals and thrive in a group or pack environment. In the wild, isolation is a form of individual pack punishment and is 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, confining your dog for long periods of time will result in unwanted behavior issues.
Isolation from contact with humans and other animals inevitably leads to fear, aggression, and other forms of “bad” behavior. Dogs need company to develop healthy behaviors. In any human-canine relationship, the human must be the alpha dog, the leader of the pack. Your dog needs to pay attention to you, how to behave, and you need to be consistent about what you expect and teach your dog.
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 boundaries of their surroundings (until you teach them) and will happily wander off to explore your neighbor’s yard.
For dogs, exploring means more than just looking and smelling, they love to taste and chew just about anything. This can be deadly for your dog. You need to give him some healthy alternatives to chew on and a safe area to explore without damaging the garden or himself.
Digging is another part of exploring and a very strong instinct in some dogs, like my terriers. 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 they rarely do. It doesn’t take them very long to dig a two foot hole. I leave it on until they lose interest (the mice have moved on) and then I fill it in and put some grass on top.
The reason my terriers dig is because dogs are predators and they hunt mice. They have incredible hearing and sense of smell and can tell if a mouse has been there in the past few days. They will finish them off quickly if they can catch them. It’s not particularly pleasant to watch them finish off 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 experienced the thrill of the hunt. If they were too quick for their prey, I’ll grab their favorite treat and trade the sacrifice for the treat and commend them for giving up their prize. They haven’t done anything wrong – they’re just doing their job.
One last trait I want to mention is that dogs are scavengers and will eat just about anything. Some of my terriers’ favorites are rabbit pellets (poo), horse manure (apparently very tasty), and dead animals. They don’t seem to associate what they eat with how they feel afterwards, and keep repeating the act that caused them to have an upset stomach. Keep this in mind when trying to keep your dog safe and healthy.
When you have a good understanding of your dog’s true nature and work with it rather than working against it, you will find that there is less frustration for you and your dog.