Updated: Oct 23
Have you ever wondered why your dog exhibits certain behaviours?
Some canine behaviour is innate in the dog's breeding or DNA. A dog's behaviour can be normal or problematic. Some breeds were bred to do specific tasks and therefore are predisposed to displaying that behaviour. Most breeds fall under the major groups - herding, working, hound, sporting and non-sporting and toy. Typical examples of herding dogs are border collies and shepherds. We have a border collie who just loves rounding up the chickens on our farm. She is exhibiting normal breed behaviour, it is our duty to redirect that behaviour (especially for the chicken's sake!). Other breeds like dachshunds and terriers were bred for digging. By supplying one of these dogs with their own digging area in the garden (sand pit, soil box, etc) you are allowing your dog to show a normal behaviour. Begin with hiding toys or treats to entice the dog to dig. Breeds that have high prey drive need motivational play to satisfy that urge like fetch or frisbee play.
Being aware of your dog's heritage, whether purebred or mixed breed, will help you as a dog owner identify the traits common in those breeds and with that information pursue any behavioural issues. One of the leaders on the market for the most accurate breed identification testing is Embark. A DNA test can be done with a simple swab test. They test over 350 breeds to determine your dog's history and their genetic background. By having these results, we can modify or redirect unwanted behaviour and provide the environment for our dogs to display what comes naturally to them without reprisal.
Did you know dogs trained with rewards have the least behavioural problems and show less fear?
It is important to remember all training should be with positive reinforcement. Reward based training means rewarding the good behaviours your dog shows and ignoring, redirecting or reshaping others. This must be given immediately (within seconds) after the dog has responded to you in order to associate it with the proper action. This includes praise, food treats, petting or rewarding them with their favourite toy or game.
By providing your dog with appropriate toys (lick mats, chew alternatives, designated digging areas, long lasting treats, bones, play time, scent training (snuffle mats or outdoors), trick training, socialising, and of course exercise will make most behavioural problems temporary or manageable. For more serious behavioural problems such as aggression or biting, a dog trainer or behaviourist would be able to work with you on behaviour modification techniques. A last word on behaviour - please visit your veterinarian if your dog's behaviour changes from the normal. If your dog begins showing different behaviours including reduced activity, less sociability, gait or posture changes or aggression, your dog may be responding due to chronic pain, illness or old age.