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Biological Fulfillment

So many people spend most of their time trying to stop dogs from doing things that they consider to be problematic behaviors, whether that be chasing wildlife, biting the lead, nipping ankles, barking or guarding the owner. A lot of these behaviors do not occur just because your dog is being naughty - they are often expressing their natural instincts to herd, guard, chase, fight etc. Attempting to stop dogs from expressing behaviors that are natural to them creates conflict and can actually cause dogs to become shut down and display unwanted behaviors in order to attempt to fulfill themselves where we are not allowing fulfillment.

But what if we started working with your dogs natural instincts as opposed to against them? As trainers, we are passionate about all dogs being biologically fulfilled. But what does this mean and how do we get there?

At it's simplest, biological fulfillment is the act of allowing your dog to do what it is genetically programmed to do. What this looks like depends on the dog's genetics and personality traits. All dog breeds were originally bred for a purpose and most of the desirable behaviors in working dogs are certain aspects of the hunting sequence:

  • Tracking: this includes sniffing the ground and air, tracking, and scanning

  • Stalking: this involves the dog fixing their gaze on the "prey", slowing their movements or freezing, lying down or crouching and slowly approaching the prey. It also includes herding.

  • Chasing: this is what it says on the tin!

  • Catch: this includes catching, fighting and eventually winning/killing the prey

  • Celebration: this presents itself as victory laps or parading the object

  • Consumption: the final stage involves eating the prey

What is biologically fulfilling for each dog depends on which part of the above sequence your dog was originally bred for. For Collies this would be herding (chasing and stalking), and for pointers this would be pointing (tracking and stalking). It can also depend on your dog as an individual. Some dogs may love playing with toys, some may prefer treat work and others may enjoy some sort of sport. It's important to try out different activities to see what your dog prefers and then how you can bring that into your every day life!

They key to ensuring biological fulfillment is to identify which parts of the hunting sequence your dog enjoys and practices naturally. Your dog's breed should be a good indicator of this, but not always. For example, Dachshunds were bred to hunt and kill badgers however a lot of Dachshunds may prefer to be cuddled up on the sofa under a blanket rather than out hunting big scary badgers. Your dogs breed could however give you an indication on what may fulfill them even if it isn't specific to what they were directly bred for. So for example, Odin our Dachshund enjoys chasing the flirt pole but also enjoys playing find it games and sniffing games like scent work.

Once you have established which part of the hunting sequence your dog favors, you can then provide them with a suitable outlet for this. Below is a list of some activities that align with each of the aspects of the hunting sequence. Some of the activities overlap; for example fetch includes both chasing and catching, whilst flirt pole includes stalking, chasing catching. Experiment with your dog to see what they love the most. Do they prefer the chase to the catch? Do they parade their toy around?

Once your dog has an appropriate outlet, you are providing them with biological fulfillment; you are allowing them to express their natural instincts. You are also allowing them to do so in a way that we consider to be productive, rather than a nuisance. Now, this doesn't mean that they will never revert to their nuisance behavior. Just because you do lure-racing with your sight hound does not mean that they will refrain from chasing a live rabbit when out on a walk. But, it can reduce the likelihood of behavioral problems caused by the dog feeling under stimulated and unfulfilled. Equally, in practicing the activity in a controlled way, you will also be able to add a level of control that you may not have previously had, which can they be transferred to real life scenarios.

Is it hugely important to understand that we cannot stop our dogs from expressing natural behaviors like these and we shouldn't try to eradicate them (within reason!). So yes you absolutely should not let your dogs chase and kill wildlife just because this is a natural behavior that they express, however it is an unrealistic expectation to want your dog to never even look at a squirrel and think about chasing it ever again. We can however work on impulse control, disengagement around triggers and a solid recall whilst also providing alternative biological fulfillment in a safe and productive way.

So, have a think to yourself - is your dog biologically fulfilled? Doe you allow your dog to do things that they enjoy? Do you partake in a sport that allows them to express their natural instincts? If you aren't sure where your dog sits or what activities would suit your dog, then get in touch and we can help you find the right thing for you and your dog to both enjoy!

1 Comment

Love this article! How often do you think we should be incorporating these natural outlets? Daily?

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