When the more docile wolves began to hang around villages and garbage dumps, early man discovered there was an advantage to having the alert animals hanging around. Wolves howled out warnings other predators or unknown humans were in the area, which put the village people on alert. The natural instincts of these animals helped early man thrive and survive, and the working relationship between domesticated dogs and man has never waned over the centuries. Natural instincts dogs inherited from the wolf is hardwired in all dog breeds. The same survival instincts that make wolves an apex predator is why and how properly trained dogs excel at doing the jobs they were created to do.
The social structure of a wolf pack is an alpha male and female who leads, and other members of the pack have their own social status in the hierarchy of the pack. The alpha male is the one that sets down rules and limitations for other family members to follow, and leads the pack by controlling resources. Aggression is rarely needed and minor squabbles between subordinate members are worked out by the disagreeing parties. The purpose of a pack is to help ensure survival, protection of their territory, feed, raise, and protect their young, and provide social interactions. Without an able leader, the family unit is unstable, out of balance, and chaotic, which puts the entire pack at risk.
Pack instinct is as important to dogs as it is to wolves, and is an innate instinct inherited from them. From a dog’s point of view, if no one in his human family takes the role of leader, he will take the top spot because someone has to lead to provide stability and protect the pack. A leaderless dog is apt to be anxious and show bad behavior when he’s confused about who’s in charge and what’s expected of him. Canines are more comfortable and secure with us making the decisions.
Circling and scratching before lying down
Circling before lying down is a hardwired survival instinct that goes back to prehistoric times. Tall grass and underbrush provides a safe haven to bed down in, but some insects and reptiles occupying the same area can be hazardous. Circling an area pats grass down creating a softer bed to lie on, and helps drive out unwanted guests like snakes and biting insects. Scratching the ground helps to even it out, removes small rocks, clods of dirt, and other debris from the area. It may also be a way of leaving their mark, claiming that territory as theirs.
Wolves bury food to hide it from other animals and birds. A pregnant female might dig a den where she can have her pups. Dogs and wolves dig shallow holes to reach cooler dirt in the summer and as a way of preserving body heat during the winter. Some dogs are escape artists and dig to escape their enclosure for a variety of reasons. Breeds bred to go to ground can quickly dismantle a flower garden in pursuit of prey that’s been detected underground.
Caring for puppies
To make sure a wolf pack has enough resources, it’s common for only the alpha pair to mate. It’s a survival instinct to control the population and ensures the best chance of survival for the pups and pack. The pack’s role is to help care for and keep the pups safe, and their bond with pack members is as strong as our bond with dogs. Female dogs that didn’t give birth to puppies will still nurse, and may even produce milk. It’s a hardwired instinct to care for the young. Puppies and subordinate pack members lick around the mouth of the leader when greeting them, and as a way to find out what’s for supper.
Protecting squeaky toys
A squeaky toy isn’t just a toy to dogs. When a dog grabs a toy and shakes it, that’s an instinct that comes from wolves. Wildly shaking the toy is the killing instinct and the squeak mimics the cries of prey. Protecting toys is a natural behavior, and some dogs will collect them in a crate or under the bed or couch and defend his hoard. It’s a survival instinct and removing his toys can cause some dogs to become anxious.
Howling to communicate
Barks, growls, yips, and howls have meaning in the dog world and one way they communicate with each other. Wolves howl to tell other members his location, call the pack together, signal he’s found food, send a warning of danger to family members, or to send a warning to rival packs in the area. A male looking for a mate might howl to attract a female. A firetruck, ambulance, or police siren can trigger dogs to howl. It’s an instinct inherited from wolves, and in the dog world, returning a howl or bark is being polite. Some dog breeds, like hounds, use their howl to communicate to hunters while on the trail of prey.
Urine marking and scratching
Canines and wolves can read scent markings like a book. Urine and feces tells a wolf or dog the age, sex, and health of the animal that left it. When a wolf pack crosses into another pack’s territory, they know by urine markings they come across. Marking is one way wolves and dogs establish their rank in a pack. Scratching is done by both male and females, usually by dominant ones. Why wolves and dogs scratch the ground backwards after urinating or having a bowel movement still isn’t known by researchers, but they think it’s another way of marking territory by spreading scent from glands located in the paw pads. The scratch marks are visual signs, a way to establish hierarchy between pack members, and increases the size of the mark left when feces are spread over a larger area.
Sniffing behinds is a polite greeting and a way to learn about the other dog. Glands on each side of the anus emit a fluid during defecation that tells other dogs about their health, sex, diet, and mood. It’s the same information they can pick up by sniffing behinds.
Rolling on feces or dead animals
Scent rolling on a dead animal is an instinctive survival behavior used by wolves to mask their scent and give them an advantage when hunting. It also transfers the wolf’s smell to the dead animal or feces and is another way of marking territory.
All dogs have a innate desire to chase prey, although some breeds have a higher prey drive than others. Over the years, selective breeding has refined the different breeds to take advantage of their prey drive that helps them do their jobs.
Never punish a dog for doing something that’s instinctive to him. One reason why our relationship with dogs has been so successful is due to the natural instincts in dogs that came from the wolf. Dog breeds were created to perform specific jobs to aid us because of their innate behavior that includes loyalty and the ability to bond with us. When you earn a dog’s trust and respect, he won’t break his commitment to the one he’s bonded with.
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