Dog Behavior: Why Dogs Behave in Certain Ways

Updated on July 26, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."

Many of Fido's naughty behaviors are rooted in his ancestry.
Many of Fido's naughty behaviors are rooted in his ancestry.

Why Do Dogs Do What They Do?

If dogs were perceived as dogs rather than ''human beings dressed in doggy suits'' perhaps there would be fewer behavioral problems in our canine companions today. The truth is, many people want a dog to either empty a void left from some emotional scar or to make the kids happy. They end up taking the plunge without really putting much research into learning about canines and their world. Understanding the natural roots of dog behavior is key to getting acquainted with your four-legged friend and getting a helpful grip on canine psychology.

Understanding why your dog is doing this or that by going to the root of the problem is half the battle. Dogs do not behave badly because they simply woke up one morning and decided to take revenge and destroy your garden or chew on your expensive pair of shoes. Dogs do not live in the past, therefore they are not of a vindictive nature. They are not acting out because you did not purchase their favorite food or because they know you betrayed them by petting another dog the other day.

Dog Behavior Is Rooted in Their Ancestry

Dogs, however, are instinctual animals that act in some ways because these ways are deeply ingrained in their genetic core. While dogs appear to be domesticated and seem to share human traits, it is often forgotten that dogs are still animals motivated by instincts. Their behaviors still revolve around basic instincts that have allowed their wellbeing and therefore, survival.

If we take a look at some of the most common behavior problems in dogs we will see that most of them stem from their ancestry. Dogs therefore will still behave as dogs no matter what. The many years of domestication left behind are relevant, but overall, dogs behave in certain ways because that is how they were supposed to behave in the wild. Following are some examples of dog behaviors stemming from their past.

Urine marking is a common behavior in dogs, even in females.
Urine marking is a common behavior in dogs, even in females.

The Natural Roots of Dog Behavior


Dogs in the wild were meant to hunt and feed on prey. This meant biting, ripping flesh and gnawing on bones. Today, dogs are often fed soft canned food or crunchy bite-sized kibble. Yet, dogs have a deep need to chew on things just as they did when they were wild. Today, these can be sticks, bones, toys or when these are not available, even your favorite pair of shoes.

Puppies and young dogs have a need to chew when they are teething, they may feel the need to rub their gums just as it happens in human babies. They will, therefore, seek items to chew on to get relief. Chewing also relaxes dogs, it is not unusual to see a dog fall asleep after chewing their favorite toy.


Dogs that tend to urinate repeatedly on your car's tires, flower beds or grass, leaving behind ugly yellow spots are simply claiming their territory. This again stems from when the dogs lived in a pack and had to mark their boundaries and even leave visual markings by scratching the dirt with their hind legs.

When we see dogs sniffing the grass in parks, they are often ''reading the headlines'' of the doggy world. The traces of urine left behind by other dogs give lots of information that we humans cannot perceive.


Many dogs have high prey drives. This is often quite strong in some breeds that have been used for hunting for many years. This instinct can be seen in dogs that feel the need to chase anything that moves and acts as prey. This may mean chasing cats, cars, joggers and even small children.

Dogs with high prey drive may be hard to control once they focus on the animal or object moving. Yet, this behavior as well in ingrained in the dog's past when its job was to hunt on prey.


Even behavior issues such as separation anxiety has its roots in a dog's past. Because dogs are social animals they tend to thrive when in company of their social group. Pack members are generally left behind when they are sick or injured. It is an innate behavior, in many dogs, therefore to want to be with their owners. Of course, this is rare in independent dog breeds.

Need for Guidance

The need for being in a social group also requires owners capable of providing gentle guidance. They like to have an owner that sets routines and guides them through what is acceptable and not. A dog with an owner capable of providing gentle guidance will live much happier, and relaxed.

Despite what was previously thought, dogs are not trying to take charge and assume the ''alpha role'' every chance they get. They are simply opportunist beings that will engage in behaviors that are most advantageous to them.

Age-Old Instincts vs. Learned Behavior

From chewing to chasing small animals, many behaviors are deeply rooted in a dog's past. Domestication has taken away some of the wildest traits, but many of those early instincts have held on. There are, however, many instances where humans create new behaviors in dogs that perhaps would have never existed in the past.

Dogs fearful of thunderstorms, getting wet from the rain or walking in a puddle are behaviors of modern society. Rain, thunderstorms and puddles indeed, would have never stopped a wild pack of canines from hunting their prey in their past, otherwise they would have starved. Therefore, this fear is caused by living in a city, possibly in an apartment and being pampered all day.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2010 Adrienne Farricelli


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    • profile image

      Just nobody 

      8 months ago

      Why do dogs act the way they do?

    • profile image

      lois derie 

      3 years ago

      My dog loves my husband, but if im not home, he wont have anything to do with him , what can I do

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      i love dogs!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      7 years ago

      Emily, you can but must quote me or put my name in your references just as you would do from other websites you use. Schools are quite strict on referencing articles you use. This means you can write according to Adrienne Farricelli, dog trainer and behavior consultant...."" or you can simply put references at the bottom of your projects like this;

      Adrienne Farricelli, Dog Behavior: Why Dogs Behave in Certain Ways. Hope it helps!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      is it ok if i use some of this information in a pproject im working on at school for animal club?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Paul, Have you had your Yorkie checked for physical issues? He may be having problems with his knee(s).

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My dog is a Yorkshire terrier. When I take him for a walk on a lead he would stop and stare at me and refuse to move on, then I would walk back to him and he would head off in another direction, he would repeat the process several times to the point where I would abandon the walk.

      He would be very excited for the walk but when we get going he does this. He is 2yrs and this behaviour has just started a month ago.

      We wold normally give him at least 3 walks a day the longest being in the evening for about 3miles.

    • profile image

      Angela Lynn 

      9 years ago

      I agree with this post. We as pet owners do not often understand some of our dogs behavior. They have traits that we often wonder why they continuously doing such. I think what's important is we show how them how much we really love them.

    • lctodd1947 profile image

      Linda Todd 

      10 years ago from Charleston

      This is another great hub and explains a lot of things. I have always been lucky with Corky, my Pomeranian..he has never marked territory. He is perfect to major problems period. I could take him to church if I chose to and he would sit on my arm or lap and not show as much movement as a child that is perfect.Right?

      Thanks for sharing

    • oliversmum profile image


      10 years ago from australia

      Alexadry. Hi. This is a great hub with excellent information, sometimes we do tend to forget that our pets are animals. They give unconditional love , no matter how badly some folks may treat them, which makes me pretty sad. We have a Malt/poodle he is just beautiful, but sometimes a little naughty. Thank you for sharing this info with us it helps a lot. :) :)

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      I am so glad you wrote this. People seem to forget that the instinct from hundreds of years ago is still there and they will follow it.

    • ocbill profile image


      10 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      yes, very good hub. They do love to chase, especially the birds.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      10 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      This is a wonderful hub and yes, every bread of dog, down to the toy poodle comes from the wolf. They are dogs, and not what people want them to be. This is such an excellent hub, thanks for sharing...


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