As animals, there are things that feel natural to us and drive us to do things in our daily lives.

Whether it’s looking after our children or making sure we feel safe and have shelter, we do what we can to follow these instincts, and so do our dogs.

You might have noticed your dog doing strange things in the past or behaving in a way that seems funny to you, but normal to them. This is likely the result of some type of dog instincts, whether they’re behaviors passed down from generations before them or just innate behavior that comes with being a dog.

What is an instinctive behavior in dogs?

These behaviors are passed down through genetics and usually a result of what that specific breed of dogs was made to do. They can include hunting, digging holes, shepherding, and barking, all of which have a purpose and will continue to be experienced by your dog, even if they’re now a domestic breed.

Some things are totally normal for your dog to do, and other times when these innate behaviors could be signaling something more worrying. We’ve got all of your questions answered about dog’s instincts and innate behavior so you can find out what your pooch is up to.

What Are Dog Instincts and Innate Behavior?

husky digging deep hole

Instinctive behavior is something that all animals experience, and it comes from a genetic predisposition.

With dogs, most breeds were bred for a specific purpose, and you might find that these animals have more instinctive behaviors than others, even if they no longer perform those tasks.

Common instincts are ones that we all have, even our dogs, and it includes things like eating when we’re hungry or looking after our young. With dogs, there are other things they might be drawn to do, and these behaviors are simply known by them and not something that can be taught.

Dog instincts are sometimes referred to as innate behavior, which is simply another way of saying that it’s built into them. Observing a dog doing things like digging holes or trying to herd up other animals might seem amusing to us humans but they feel completely natural to your pet, and in some cases, it’s better to just let them act them out.

The Most Common Instinctual behavior of Dogs

No matter the breed of dog you have or their unique personality, there are some behaviors that it seems they all have.

If you’ve spotted your dog doing any of these things, they’re likely doing so because of their natural instincts.


If your dog is always leaving holes in the backyard, you can probably chalk it up to instincts.

Breeds like the Westy and Yorkshire Terrier were bred as hunters and would dig up burrows of rats and rabbits in the ground below to try and catch them. This behavior is carried on and is common for many dogs to do, and not just these breeds.

Carrying items

Two dogs in lake

It’s cute to see a dog carrying their toys around, but it can signal nervous behavior in some. For hunting dogs like Labradors and Golden Retrievers, they used to carry hunted prey around in their mouths once it had been caught, being careful not to damage it.


Another reason why some dog breeds are more vocal than others with barking is because of what they were bred for. Terriers and similar breeds bark a lot compared to others, as they used to signal to their owners about prey or caution them over something.


Aggressive biting is another type of behavior altogether and one that needs to be addressed with the help of an expert if you can’t get it under control.

However, playful biting that a dog does with other dogs is usually from their shepherd herding instincts and still carries over even if the dog has been domesticated.

Butt sniffing

Dogs love nothing more than sniffing another dog’s behind when you’re out at the park. Although it can be embarrassing for the owners, your pooch has much more important reasons to be doing it.

Dogs can figure out a lot by what they discover thanks to their strong sense of smell and can determine emotional state, diet, and gender by giving a sniff.

Burying things

We’ve all experienced finding a long lost item buried in the backyard before, and it’s no wonder, as this is a common instinctive behavior.

Dogs bury things because of their wild predecessors who had to bury food to ensure that no other animal would steal it. Your dog today still has this instinct and uses it to keep their toys, a bone, or your favorite pair of shoes safe and sound.

Should You Let Your Dog Act Out Their Natural Desires?

You should never attempt to stop a dog doing what they want to do unless of course, the behavior is disruptive or dangerous.

Although it’s true that many of these things they do because of a long line of genetic predispositions, that doesn’t mean they’ll always do them, so there’s no harm in trying to deter some behaviors.

Some dogs will exhibit these behaviors when they’re stressed or upset, so you should try first to figure out if this is the case first. Look at potential environmental factors or recent changes that might be upsetting them, and take note of when they’re exhibiting this behavior. If your dog is prone to anxiety, this could be a way for them to express it, so speak to your vet if you’re concerned.

If it seems that your dog is doing these behaviors just because it’s an instinct and they enjoy it, it should be okay to leave them alone. However, if it becomes destructive, there are ways you can try to give them another outlet for their behavior to prevent it from becoming a problem.

How to Use Their Instincts to Your Advantage

woman works with dog lying on her lap

While we should try and deter dogs from doing any behaviors that are destructive or dangerous, there are ways you can channel this energy and instinct into something good.

These are a few ways you can let your dog put those innate behaviors to good use, both for yourself and them.

Teaching tricks

Do some research on your dog’s breed to find out how they learn tricks. Some dogs are better equipped at tricks like fetching and following commands, whereas others will do well with hunting and gathering. You’ll make it easier for yourself and them to choose tricks that suit their instincts.


The way your dog communicates may be due to their instincts and you can make matters easier for you both by learning how they do this.

Some dogs communicate vocally and others might use parts of their body like their teeth or paws. Learning how your dog instinctually connects is key to communication.

Mental stimulation

If you have a dog that likes to herd, hunt, or dig, you’ll want to find games that let them do this. Most dogs have an innate desire to hunt, so hiding dog treats with things like Snuffle Mats or treat toys can help. Others like interactive games with their owners like a tug of war.

Physical activity and exercise

Your dog will have a natural instinct to move but you should learn how and when to get the most of them. Breeds like greyhounds love to be let free to run long distances, and others like Shih Tzus and Maltese Terriers prefer more casual walks at a leisurely pace.

Dogs are fascinating creatures with some innate behavior and personality traits that make them even more lovable.

Provided your dog isn’t exhibiting this behavior because they’re stressed, it can be amazing to watch. We’ve answered some commonly asked questions about dogs that will help you learn more about why they do the things they do.

Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

why dogs eats grass

There’s a common misconception that dogs only eat grass when they feel sick or about to vomit, but the conduct is more common than you realize.

However, there are a few reasons your dog might be eating grass including trying to up their fiber intake, meeting a nutritional need or treating intestinal worms that they’re infested with.

Why Do Dogs Lick?

Dogs tend to lick their owners or other animals at random times and it’s believed they do this is to show affection.

Some experts have stated that dogs release pleasurable endorphins when they lick, which makes them feel happy and calm, just as they do when they’re released in the human bloodstream.

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Katelyn Son