Becoming a pet parent requires greater understanding of the unique temperaments and behaviors of pets. It is never easy since we can only make calculated assumptions based on the things we observe. However, there are certain behaviors that are more pronounced than others. Hence, it is possible that these pet behaviors stem from a much more innate mechanism we call psychological drive or instinctual need. In human psychology, instinctual needs drive our behaviors. In like manner, the different drives of dogs can also shape their behavior. Let’s try to understand what these instinctual needs or drives are and how they can manifest as behaviors in our dogs.
Every living organism, including humans and dogs, have a very strong need to eat. It is a basic need; hence, it is one of the strongest drives in both man and dog. For man’s best friend, the food drive is not only for sustenance; it’s for its own survival.
Before man turned dogs into his trusted companions, canines had to brave the harsh conditions of the land in search for food. And when it finds food, the dog will eat. The problem is that the dog will never know where it will get its next meal. It’s a survival thing, hence the dog will protect anything and everything that is necessary for its survival.
This drive can have several implications in the behavior of dogs. Some will show aggression if somebody messes with their food. Most dogs don’t like having their meal times interrupted or disturbed. If you try to touch or go near the dog’s food bowl, the hound will let out a growl. It’s a sign of protectiveness for its food.
The good news with this dog drive is that you can use it to your advantage. Since dogs view food as necessary for their survival, they will do almost anything to obtain and protect such an item. Hence, using food items as special rewards can help them learn behaviors and tricks a lot easier. This is one of the techniques employed in positive reinforcement dog training. Food is always a great motivator among dogs.
The sexual drive of dogs is as instinctual as the need to find food. While it is not necessary for their individual survival, it is a must for their breed to flourish. To put it in very simple words – we won’t have dogs today if not for this strong drive.
The sexual drive of dogs differs between the sexes, of course. Males tend to display mating behaviors that some pet owners may find gross and disgusting. Male canines may shadow females in heat. They can also show aggression towards other males that may also want to mate with the dog’s “partner”. In some cases, the mounting and humping behaviors of male dogs extend well into their pet owners or other individuals. They can hump a guest’s leg or a toy. This can be quite embarrassing for the pet parent.
Female dogs show a different kind of behavior when their sexual drive is in full gear. If this is their first time, females often show aggression towards male dogs that make advances to them. As the female dog matures, however, their behavior changes into a more “accepting” one. They may be the ones who will initiate contact with a male dog. Some are known to present their behinds to a male hound, ready for procreation.
The need to protect oneself or one’s loved ones is another drive that is not only strong in dogs, but also among humans. You can call it the self-preservation instinct; although some would call it the defense drive. Whatever you wish to call it, this urge or instinct hinges on the organism’s response to something that’s perceived as a danger or threat.
There are two ways dogs can react to a threat. They can either run away from it or stay on and put up a good fight. We call this the fight or flight response and is one of the guiding principles in the theory of stress.
Dogs that choose the “fight” response will stand their ground. You can see their muscles tensing as well as showing their teeth. You’ll also hear them let out a characteristic growl. They’re ready to pounce. On the other hand, dogs in “flight” will run as fast as they could, often with their tails in between their rear legs. The ears are also drawn closer to the head. The dog can also let out a soft whimper as if it’s crying.
Make no mistake. If the dog in “flight” gets cornered, it doesn’t have any choice but to switch into a “fight” mode.
Many dogs consider themselves as members of a larger pack. This is the fundamental reason why we view dogs as very social animals. They recognize the hierarchical structure of a group. There’s a recognized leader that they can depend on for almost everything.
We said “many” because there are still some breeds that do fine without becoming a shadow of their pet owners. They don’t follow their owners wherever they may go. But for those dogs that are true pack members, their drive to belong is not only evident in their closeness with their pet parents. It’s also evident in their activities with other dogs.
For instance, Beagles, Bloodhounds, and Fox Terriers work so well with other dogs whenever they go on a hunt. They collaborate and work together to home in on the prey. These dogs have a very high pack drive that is recognizable in their cooperative actions.
As mentioned, dogs in the wild have to scavenge for food if they want to survive. That’s why they have to protect their territories from potential competitors. If other dogs trespass in their lands, this often means fewer resources for them. This is unacceptable. That’s why they have to protect their territory.
Not all dogs have very strong territorial drives. Rottweilers, Bull Mastiffs, and Doberman Pinschers are some of the breeds that are known to be very territorial. They will try to defend their “territories” from other dogs or other animals that may trespass. What this means is that all dogs will have the tendency to defend its territory. The only difference is that some breeds have a much stronger territorial drive.
However, it is important to take note that dogs of the same breed may display different levels of territorial drive. One may be stronger than the other. Territorialism may be acceptable in the wild because of scant resources. However, because dogs now live with their pet owners, there is no longer a need for territorialism.
This is where early socialization and dog training can come in. It’s important for pet parents to socialize their dogs early on. This helps tame their territorial drive so that problems with other dogs or other pets will not develop.
Many people confuse guarding drive with a dog’s territorialism. It’s important to understand that any dog can show territorial behavior. However, when it comes to the guarding instinct, only dog breeds that have been bred for the purpose of protecting its family, property, and livestock can make the cut. Examples of these dogs include the Akita, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, the Bullmastiff, the Doberman Pinscher, and the Rottweiler.
The guarding instincts in dogs can manifest as heightened awareness of their surroundings. They are very alert about any change in their environment. For these dogs, their primary task is to protect. Whether it’s the life of their master or the integrity of his property, dogs with strong guarding instincts will help you feel more secure.
It is for this reason that dogs that can befriend almost anybody do not have very strong guarding instincts. Take for example the Golden Retriever and its cousin, the Labrador. They make very adorable pets as they’re smart and full of vigor. However, you cannot expect them to guard you or your house because of their friendlier and more amiable nature.
Hunting Prey Drive
Not all canines have a strong prey drive. But for those breeds that do, their skills in hunting are highly valued. We need to remember that a dog’s instincts are those that are deeply ingrained in its genes. If the dog is primarily bred for the hunt, then you can also expect it to have a very strong predatory drive.
Take for example the Greyhound. We all know this breed to be an exceptional runner. What many fail to understand is that their owners utilize their strong prey drive to motivate them to run. If you look at a Greyhound race course, there’s an artificial lure that stays well ahead of the pack. Greyhounds see this and they run after it as fast as they can.
The same is true with other coursers. They are prolific runners and chasers because of their very strong hunting prey drive. Terriers are also excellent hunters.
Some dog behaviors have their roots in the dog’s instincts. It’s part of their instinctual drive. Understanding these drives will help you gain a better understanding of your pet’s behavior and temperament.
- Dog Behaviors A to Z – Web MD