Learn to understand dog behaviour and communication 101. Below are the essential basics of dog behaviour that you’ll want to know before bringing your new dog home.

Instincts: Prey Drive

Let’s get one thing straight, dogs are dogs, they aren’t wolves.

But with that said, our arctic breeds do have some strong instincts linked back to their original purposes as domestic dogs.

These behaviours can be challenging to deal with if you’re not ready for them, here we take a look at some of the common instincts that get our breed into trouble, why they do it and how to manage them.

Prey drive

Huskies are probably the breed with the highest prey drive I have ever met, followed closely by Malamutes, and Akita’s can be up there too. Prey animals include cats, rabbits, birds, possums, rodents, pocket pets and livestock.

Now all breeds can have prey drive, but the arctic determination and single-minded focus are hard to describe, if you’ve ever seen one hunting in action you’ll know what I’m talking about. Owners of arctic breeds often express complete disbelief and shock at their dog’s intensity the first time they see it corner prey. This prey drive is one of the main reasons we recommend strong and secure fences, exercising on a leash or in fenced areas, training for an emergency recall you hope never to use and bringing your dog indoors at night.

It’s true that when raised from a young age, and with appropriate guidance these breeds can learn to live with other creatures, accepting them as ‘pack members’. But as an older dog and if they’ve not lived with prey animals before, or in many cases when they’ve actually caught other animals in the past it is not realistic to integrate them into a home with other animals.

Similarly, some owners have lamented the fact their dog and other pets have lived together in harmony for years, until one fateful day.

Prey drive instinct is most effectively curbed when discouraged in the first 16 weeks of puppyhood. If a dog is allowed to practise it’s instinctual behaviour, whether intentionally or not, the behaviour will become exponentially harder to stop. In older dogs these behaviours may have been practised countless times and proved very rewarding for the dog. They will not easily stop something they enjoy so much.

If the dog has lived with smaller animals before, it’s worth noting that it will still take time for them to learn who their new family members are. Dogs can often live in peace with the family cat, but see another cat in the street or the yard and it’s game on. So if you are introducing your arctic to another animal remember to start on a leash and gradually progress to; through a barrier, muzzled interaction and then supervised interaction. Depending on the dog this can take weeks or months, it’s not uncommon for a full integration program to take around 6 months.

However not all dogs are suitable for these kinds of interactions, and not all other animals are suited to living with dogs. We need to be mindful of the dog’s and other animal’s mental state. A dog so focused that it is a constant torment should not be forced to live this way.

In dogs with extreme prey drive, a substantial aversive measure would be required to dissuade prey drive, if even possible at all. In most cases there is no need for this as a more suitable dog with lower prey drive can be placed into the home without the need for strong aversives. If you have an established home but have recently experienced an incident then an aversive experience can serve as a suitable reminder to your dog that aggressive behaviour towards other pets is not acceptable. Contact a qualified local behaviourist or trainer to help you with this.


An important note about prey drive: Your dog chasing or injuring a prey animal in no way indicates they will ever be aggressive towards humans.

From an evolutionary point of view, humans have never been prey to domestic dogs, in fact, we have been essential for their survival. Hence the close bonds they form with us; and their ability to understand our body language. Dogs do not see humans as prey and whilst they can show aggression to humans for a number of reasons, prey drive is not one of them.

As always no baby or young child should be put in a position where a dog is able to injure it. Parents when bringing a new baby home and introducing it to the resident dog must take the utmost of care. Babies smell, sound and look different to adults so your dog will need to learn this baby is a part of the human pack.

A second important note about prey drive: in many states of Australia your dog can be declared menacing or dangerous and even be destroyed by law due to attacking any animal that is not classed as vermin. In rural areas, farmers will shoot to kill your dog if it is pursuing their stock. We cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your dog safe and secure to prevent injury to other animals and your dog.

Instincts: Leash Pulling

Leash pulling

For centuries Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes have been bred to pull. There is no denying it – they are great at it – and they love it.

To see them pulling a sled is to see them in their element.

But this basic instinct is not so convenient when you are trying to enjoy a relaxing walk down the street.
If left unchecked your arctic will pull you like a sled – it’s no walk in the park I assure you!

Teaching your arctic to walk on a loose leash from day one is critical to your success. The sooner you start, the sooner you will see results. Yes your dog may take longer to train than others, but it is possible. Consistency is key.

“But my dog loves to pull!”

Then let it! Give sledding a go. Or how about Weight-pull? Maybe Skijouring or Canicross is for you?
Your dog is smart! It can learn to pull when told to, and still walk loose leash when required.
Need to drain excess energy on daily walks? Try backpacking!

Leash-pulling is a major contributor to on-leash reactivity and dog aggression. Don’t let frustration build in you and your dog, start your loose leash walking training today.

Instincts: Akita the Guard Dog

Stranger danger and barking in your Akita

Akita’s can be an excellent alarm, in fact, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need your doorbell again. One foot onto your property from a stranger and your ‘Akita alarm’ will sound. The postie, however, may not be delivering parcels to your door in the future.

Not all Akita’s will do this but many do, having been bred to protect the family home.

For this reason, Akita’s can also be aloof, or wary of new people and will not tolerate other animals entering their home or yard.
Careful socialisation as a pup will ensure your Akita is friendly towards your houseguests and other people whilst out and about. Even still don’t expect them to be everyone’s best friend straight away, they need to get to know a person before they can earn the trust of your Akita.

When home your Akita may look to you to decide if your new visitor is friend or foe. But an empty home can be another story altogether. Whilst some Akita’s don’t back their barking up with a bite, their history as protection dogs remains strong in some. It’s not recommended for strangers to enter your property when your Akita is home alone.

Introducing your Akita to another dog you wish to bring into your home, even just for a visit, should be done outside the home initially on ‘neutral territory’. Once the dogs are comfortable in their interactions with each other, only then should you consider bringing another dog into your Akita’s territory.

Body language

Dogs can’t tell us with words when they feel afraid, but they sure are telling us with their bodies. Do you know what to look for?

Many dogs stress during periods of change in their lives. It’s important to be ready to recognise the signs of anxiety in your dog and remember to give them space, especially when settling in.

Even a relatively well-rounded dog that has not experienced neglect or harsh treatment can be stressed or fearful in a new home or new environment. 

This poster from Dr Sophia Yin shows many of the common signs dogs will exhibit when feeling unsure about something.

Visit Dr Sophia Yin’s website to learn more or download a printable version of this poster.

Meet & Greet

First impressions count! Make sure yours are the right ones, learn how to approach a dog correctly and safely.

As hard as it can be to accept – not every dog wants to be greeted with the enthusiasm we may have for it.

Whilst we might be ready for full-body hugs and face squishing, our furry companions may not be. In fact, even a well-intentioned pat or hand gesture may be too much for some dogs.

Similarly, while some dogs may welcome new canine playmates with a wagging tail and play-bow, other dogs may be more wary and require a much more cautious introduction to each other.   And we can’t expect all dogs to like every other dog, in fact being unwelcoming of strange dogs is something our arctic breeds are noted for and necessary precautions always need to be taken to avoid altercations.

Whatever the reason may be, many dogs need space when meeting new friends, whether it be people or other dogs.   So here’s what you need to know in order to get off on the right foot, or paw as the case may be.

This poster from Dr Sophia Yin shows how to (and how not to) approach and greet dogs.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety in dogs is the fear or dislike of isolation which often results in undesirable behaviour. Separation anxiety is one of the most common causes of canine behavioural problems (Polin 1992; Voith and Borchelt 1985). As social animals, it is normal for puppies to form
attachments to their mother and littermates. Once a puppy is separated from its family group, it becomes attached to its owner. Attachment implies a trusting relationship and is the foundation of a good, healthy bond between owner and pet (Polin 1992). However, when a dog becomes overly dependent on its owner, problem behaviours may result. There are many problem behaviours associated with separation anxiety including defecation and urination in inappropriate locations, destructive behaviour, excessive barking and whining, depression, and
hyperactivity. These behaviours may also be the symptoms of other problems. However, if undesired behaviours are clearly related to the absence of the owner, occur shortly after departure and a prolonged greeting response occurs upon the owner’s return, separation anxiety is the probable cause (McElroy 1989). If a problem behaviour has persisted for an extended period, a visit to the vet will ensure that there
are no underlying medical problems.

Read the rest of the article here: Separation Anxiety (PDF)

Resource Guarding

When you hear the term resource guarding in dogs, it generally is about a dog getting grumpy when someone or another dog coming near their food. But in reality, it’s the dog defending anything that it sees as valuable to them because they fear it’s going to be taken from them.

Whenever we get a call about resource guarding, it’s usually when it’s gotten pretty bad. The dog growls, snaps, lunges in an ever-widening radius around its food (or toys, bed, owner etc.). Sometimes the dog has had a fight with another dog or may even have bitten someone.

The arctic breeds have a natural survival instinct to protect their food and perhaps toys from other dogs and animals, which is to be somewhat expected, so precautions may need to be taken to avoid these situations.  However, it is not acceptable for them to exhibit these behaviours towards people, and this is a behaviour we can do something about.

Read the entire article here: resource guarding (PDF) by Kelly Byrne from There and Back Again Dog Services

Kids & Dogs

Introducing a new dog into a home with children can be daunting. As a parent, your child’s safety is of the utmost importance.

You’ve found the right dog, but how can you be sure your children will be right for the dog?

Teaching children how to interact appropriately with dogs can be a challenge.
These fun posters by Dr Sophia Yin aim to help your child understand how the dog feels in a way kids can relate to.

As always, constant supervision of young children and pets is a must.
And remember to never let children and dogs interact whilst either are eating.

Visit Dr Sophia Yin’s website to learn more or download a printable version of this posters.


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