How to satisfy a dogs natural instincts – 8

What are the core needs of your dog? To understand what your specific dog physically and mentally needs it is instructive to understand where your dog came from.

A previous article I created for this site, Dog Evolution from wolf, cites recent scientific research that conclusively shows the grey wolf of SE Asia is the direct ancestor of the modern day domestic dog. The taming of the wolf in this region created domestic dogs which by selective breeding formed the ‘pure breed’ dogs that you are familiar with today.

In nature natural selection theory of evolution suggests that traits that help a species breed and survive are likely to prosper within that species and become the dominant physical and behavioural trait. However mans’ interference with this process or ‘artificial selection’ sees man choose certain characteristic within a breed on aesthetic or behavioural traits they want to narrow the breed into. This article speculates that every domestic dog still retains major remnants of the wolf's predatory skills.

But how did the wolf evolve into such a diverse species of dog? A study in the 1950’s on selective breeding of Russian foxes goes some way to explaining the modern dog’s traits. Dmitri Belyaev began selective breeding of silver foxes with the aim of making them tamer for ease of handling. While the next few generations of artificial selection became tamer, they also had unexpected new side effects such as the creation of strange coat colours, floppy ears and curly tails. They also barked more and the females came into heat much younger and more often. “These are exactly the same kinds of qualities we see in dogs (in comparison to wolves).” Ref 1


The theory for the fox changes is that the selection of foxes friendlier to humans (ie domesticated) also affects aspects of their developmental process. Being friendlier equates to having more puppy-like behaviour. Extended puppyhood genes are related to genes that affect coat colour and the other variations shown. Lengthening the time of behavioural development disrupts other types of development (such as the instinct for going in for the kill).

The research on foxes may provide a clue to the development of domestic dogs. If wolves (like foxes) were adopted by humans when they exhibited tamer characteristics, breeding these tame wolves together may have produced smaller friendlier multicolour wolves, the for-runners of dogs.

The second theory for the creation of dogs from wolves involves the “pariah” dogs that exists in undeveloped countries. These dogs are in impoverished areas so they are very unlikely to be descended from purebred dogs. Pariah dogs feed on society scraps, aren’t tame by nature, are uniform in size but vary in colour. These dogs may actually represent the closest living link to wolves and if in fact they are related to the first dogs (proto dogs) then dog evolution theory would mean that current dogs were formed from natural section between wolves (the wolves saw it as an advantage to befriend humans and bred amongst themselves for their own advantage).


Knowing that dogs evolved from wolves is a very important fact you need to keep in mind for understanding your dog. The researcher Coppingers identified seven step sequence used by the wolf when it is in predator mode:

1 Orient

2 Eye

3 Stalk

4 Chase

5 Grab

6 Bite-Kill

7 Bite-Dissect


The predator process is as follows: “first, the wolf notices its prey. Then it focuses intently on the prey (sometimes called giving "the eye") and stalks in a slinking motion to prepare for the chase. The chase can culminate in either a grab/bite or kill/bite, and this sequence can break down before the kill or dissect stage.” Ref 1

Wolves developed ALL of these behaviours to survive as a predator; however pariah dogs don’t need ALL of these behaviours because they are mainly scavengers. Similarly for domestic dog, the seven sequence pattern is interrupted. Not only because tamer dogs are more puppy-like and with that changes their behaviour development, but also because through artificial selection breeders have dissected the pattern and breed dogs for certain looks and traits.

Intense breeding of dogs with similar aesthetics or behaviours entrenches certain aspects while diminishing other natural (wolf) characteristics. And this is where your dog comes into it. Every domestic dog will have traces of all seven wolf predator characteristics, but many will be suppressed. Of those that do remain, they are sometimes heightened beyond what the wolf can manage.

• Retrievers must grab the prey but should not dissect (step 5)

• Hounds chase. (step 4 and sometimes 5)

• Herding dogs must eye and stalk, but never bite or kill. (border collies display wolf predator sequence 1 to 4)

Then there are dogs that have been breed to even more domesticated specific human needs:

• Spaniels were breed to retrieve game birds from swamps. They have very soft jaws so as not to damage the game. They are highly geared to chase and grab (4 and 5 wolf scale)

• Rottweiler’s were bred to drive cattle and muscle them into line.

• Hunting breeds such as beagles have highly developed noses. Because this is a dogs strongest sense, rigourous training is usually required for handlers to control such dogs.

• Grey hounds have high burst speed but fatigue easily even on long walks (particularly as they age)

• Dalmatians were bred to have incredible stamina to run alongside coaches

• An Australian shepherd dog must herd. If it doesn’t have sheep its drive to herd may manifest itself in herding children other animals or inanimate objects

• Sled dogs live to pull sleds, their reward is in the pulling itself

• Lap dogs were bred to sit in laps and display many of the predator characteristics



If you know what your breed of dog was bred for, you have a much better chance of providing them with the kind of physical activity that will have them be happy (fulfilled). All dogs need exercise and walking with an owner for bonding or walking in a pack for socialisation benefits all dogs. If you want to go further in meeting your dog’s needs perhaps you can identify which of the seven wolf steps are heightened in your dog.

Also knowing the purpose your dog was created for will much better help you understand what games or exercise you should give your dog to satisfy their ‘natural’ instincts. The only limit to this is that modern society generally shuns the ‘end point’ of the wolf’s game, the kill. Except for some dogs bred specifically for hunting game such as rabbits or pigs. It has been said that once you ‘blood’ a dog, that you have initiated an irreversible desire in the dog to continue down this predatory path. And this is the physiological reason behind many council’s decisions to euthanize dogs once they have bitten or killed another animal.

The balancing act is to provide your dog with ‘games’ that satisfy their natural urges, while being mindful of setting boundaries so that they do not go too far, after all, you are the pack leader. Even during an intense ‘hunting’ game, you need to be able to tell the dog when you decide the game is over. And this is exactly where dog walking comes into the picture.

Dog walking isn’t just about a dog getting exercise and being tired for the day, it’s about them feeling that they are doing something useful for their owner and earning their keep too. All domestic purebred dogs were bred for a purpose. While some of it is to look a certain way, much of it is focussing on one or two of the seven wolf sequences. An ‘off lead’ walk will allow your dog to practice many of the natural skills they were born with, along with getting exercise and socialising and playing with other animals. While a structured on lead walk is ideal for owner and dog to bond, an off-lead walk is necessary to satisfy their primal instincts. Either way, a dog should be walked one to two times a day, every day. A happy dog is one that is satisfied both mentally and physically.



Ref 1

Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please refer to the article as a reference and provide a live link to


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