Engage Your Dog's Natural Instincts

As dog owners, most of us are aware of how important it is to give our dogs plenty of exercise. Despite our busy schedules, we make an effort to take them for walks, let them chase balls or Frisbees at the park, and perhaps play with other dogs. Some of us take part in dog sports, or participate in other competitions or fun events. What many of us never consider, though, is what our dogs were actually bred to do. Engaging in activities that allow their natural instincts to come into play is bliss for dogs; their eyes shine, their tails wag, and they appear to be in a zen-like state of happiness.

Jack is a husky who frequents our local dog park. He’s friendly and loves to run and play with other dogs. But being a sled dog, his true love is pulling! Since there’s no snow to be found in our part of southern California, Jack’s dad attaches him and a friend’s husky to a scooter, and lets them pull to their hearts’ content. In fact, a few other owners of northern breed types have started having informal carting get-togethers. The dogs love it and so do the people.

If you have a sighthound, you might consider lure coursing, a sport in which the dogs race after a simulated fuzzy bunny (okay, it’s a white plastic bag, but it seems to work for them). Got a terrier? Earth dog might be just the activity for you. Terriers, who have a natural talent for hunting rodents, get to race through specially constructed wooden tunnels after their prey, who are likely to be in a cage at the end of the tunnel. The dogs don’t get to kill any mice, of course, but the searching is great fun and lets them engage their hunting instincts as nature intended.

If you have an Australian shepherd, border collie, or other herding breed, why not try herding? There are places you can take your dog for lessons in herding sheep, or even cattle. The instructor will administer an “instinct test” to see whether your dog’s got a natural inclination for the work. (I recently tried sheep herding with Sierra. She’s not exactly a herding breed, but if you want a laugh, check out the blog and video.)

Even if your dog doesn’t excel at something right away, having the genetic instinct for it will make learning the skill easier. And if you’ve got a mixed breed dog, you may have a greater number of instinctive drives from which to choose. Your beagle/German shepherd mix might be great at tracking, thanks to his scent hound side, or shine at sheep herding, the German shepherd’s original job. If you’re not sure of your dog’s breed mix, or what he’d be good at, try out different activities together. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have fun trying.

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