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Your pup's instincts: When should you listen to them?

Understanding your dog: How to read dog body language

Dogs live in a purely instinctual world, always in the present moment and in touch with their senses. Their “smart” is different to ours, and because of this, sometimes it is worth paying attention to dog’s instincts.

But when do you adhere to your dog’s instincts and when do you chalk the behaviour up to excitement or feeling territorial?

While we sadly can’t openly chat with our four-legged friends, there are other ways we can understand what they are trying to tell us.

The main way to do this is by learning how to read dog body language, by observing your dog in their day-to-day environment and their common behaviours.

1. Licking

Why do dogs lick you? It is partly a way of telling you they like you, but it’s also their way to clean, communicate and calm themselves down.

2. Tail wagging

Tail wagging is a way dogs communicate with one another, and you. Once you understand this behaviour, it’s pretty simple to read. Wagging on the right side means they’re happy, wagging on the left side means they’re scared.

3. Butt sniffing

Just a gross animal behaviour? A strange canine greeting? Not quite! A dog’s sense of smell is so good that by sniffing another dog’s rear they can learn about their diet, gender and emotional state.

4. Burying

Burying is a behaviour passed down in evolution. Wild dogs would bury their food to stop other animals finding and eating it. If your dog buries something, it’s a way of claiming a possession and trying to stop anyone else from using it.

5. Trailing or leading

The way your dog walks – by your side, leading or trailing – is not only down to their training.

Wild dogs walk differently in the pack for different reasons: if they’re at the front they are leading the way and handling any threats; at the back, they follow and warn of dangers from the rear; and in the middle their role is to relay messages to the front and back.

1. They’re very good at reading human body language

One of the reasons it is worth paying attention to your dog’s instincts is that dogs have been found to be extremely good at reading human body language and sensing human emotions.

In fact, studies have shown they’re even better at this than chimpanzees. This means your dog will often be a better judge of character than you are!

As well as being able to tell the difference between someone being happy or sad, dogs are reportedly able to sense if someone is untrustworthy or unreliable.

2. They have heightened senses

A dog’s heightened sense of smell means they can detect scents like drugs, blood or explosives when humans can’t. This is why canines are often employed as sniffer dogs.

Unless they’ve been trained, a dog is unlikely to consider these smells as a particular threat or danger. But they will be aware that something is different in their environment and their behaviour will reflect this.

Dogs can also detect sounds that humans can’t, making it possible for them to react to sounds that you may not have heard.


An important factor to consider when thinking about instincts and when to follow them is the breed of your dog. Dogs were bred for different reasons: to be herders, companions or guard-dogs.

That means certain breeds will exhibit specific instincts and characteristics and will be more in-tune to certain things.

Honoring the instincts of your breed can help both of you.

Keeping work-dogs such as huskies challenged and busy, or allowing sheep dogs to use their herding abilities even without the presence of sheep, makes for a happy pup and means if they’re instincts are needed, they’ll be well-equipped to use them.

Herding dogs are often used to assist the police and military due to their protective instincts, energy and intelligence, proving their innate abilities can be used in many different ways.


Not always. If you have a particularly aggressive or fearful dog, they may behave as if every little thing is a threat or danger. In this case, you would exhaust yourself by constantly being on the lookout for attack!

On the other hand, if your generally calm and well-balanced dog bristles when a particular person approaches or turns away from a particular street, you may as well give them the benefit of the doubt and trust their instincts.

It all comes down to getting to know your individual dog and being able to recognise behaviour that isn’t normal.

We all know our dog’s can’t resist a tasty snack. Luckily, we’ve got loads of deals on Schmackos and Nutro food in store this month! Give us a call on 09 448 2227 or pop in to Nose to Tail to check them out.