Dogs really are surprisingly complex creatures, and in order to have a good relationship with your dog you should learn a little about their nature.

Dogs are descended from wolves and therefore have many of the same characteristics, although some behaviors are the result of thousands of years of interaction with humans. Understanding these characteristics can make life with your dog easier.

Firstly, dogs are very social animals and thrive in a group or herd environment. In nature, isolation is a form of punishment for the individual of the pack and not a comfortable state for your dog. Although there are times when confinement for short periods can be used as part of training to stop unwanted behaviour, locking your dog away for long periods of time will result in unwanted behavior problems.

Isolation from contact with humans and other animals always leads to fear, aggression and other forms of “bad” behavior. Dogs need companionship to develop healthy behavior patterns. In any human-dog relationship, the human must be the alpha dog, the leader of the pack. Your dog must look to you for how to behave, and you must be consistent in what you expect from your dog and what you teach him.

You know the saying “Curiosity killed the cat”? Well, dogs are also very curious animals and want to explore their environment to the fullest. Unfortunately, they don’t know the boundaries of their environment (until you teach them) and will like to wander off to explore your neighbor’s yard.

Exploration, for dogs, involves more than seeing and smelling, they love to taste and chew just about anything. This can be fatal for your dog. You need to give him some healthy options to chew on and a safe area where he can explore and not cause harm to the farm or himself.

Digging is another part of exploring, and with some dogs, like my terriers, it’s a very strong instinct. I have areas of the yard where I let them 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 until they lose interest (the mice have moved on) and then I fill it in and put some peat over it.

The reason my terriers dig is because dogs are carnivores and they hunt the mice. They have an incredible sense of hearing and smell and can tell if a mouse has been there in the last few days. They will quickly dispatch them when they can catch them. It’s not very pleasant to see them dispatch the mice or the squirrels, and if I can distract them long enough for the critters to get away all the better. My dogs have enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. When they have been to fast for their prey, I retrieve their favorite treat and trade the victim for the treat and praise them for giving up their prize. They haven’t done anything wrong – they’re just doing their job.

One last trait I would like to mention is that dogs are scavengers and will eat just about anything. Some favorites of my terriers are rabbit pellets (dropping), horse manure (apparently very tasty) and dead animals. They don’t seem to associate what they eat with how they feel afterwards and will repeat the action that gave them an upset stomach over and over again. Keep this in mind when trying to keep your dog safe and healthy.

If you have a good understanding of your dog’s true nature and work with it rather than guts, you will find that there is less frustration for both you and your dog.

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