In nature the pack of dogs lives in a lair. They make a kill and bring large chunks of meat in the lair for their consumption. The lair is their home safe home and even their puppies are born within its confines. Unlike us they do not have any system of cleaning their house. Imagine the dirt and squalor which can generate in a house where the members eat their food live and also reproduce! The rotten food material and the excreta of the puppies can spread fatal diseases. But such condition does not arise.
Yes you have rightly guessed, dogs are endowed with a cleanliness instinct. In fact they are more conscious about the environment than us in some respect. The pups and their dam show the instinct right from the moment they come into this world. As soon as the puppy is delivered the bitch cleans it up fervently. Till about three weeks after birth the muscles of excretion in the pups are not fully developed. Therefore dam licks the puppies to make them pass urine and stool. She licks dog pups on the genital from posterior to anterior. The female pups are licked from anterior to posterior direction. She not only licks them but also ingests all the excreta. It sounds hideous but perhaps it is the nature’s best way to protect the litter and the pack from infections!
The puppies even a few hours old begin to crawl away from the dam and littermates when they feel like excreting. Of course they can do so only when the dam licks them, yet their drifting away is a signal for the dam and she begins to anxiously look for the pups and lick them and if need be pull the pup closer to her after the job has been done.
Puppies as they grow under the tutelage of the dam in the company of littermates start crawling/walking away a few paces for passing stool and urine. Gradually this distance goes on increasing. By the time a pup is four week’s old he chooses his spot may be a few meters away from the lair and do his job and hurriedly return back to his littermates.
Puppies are neither born with a degree of environment science nor they undergo a course in civic sense, yet they have an instinct to move away from their lair for excretion. Most of owners on the other hand blissfully ignorant of this quality start punishing the pup for what he does naturally. Often owners make the pup sleep in their bedroom. Poor guy tries his best to move away he walks to the sitting room and finds the costly carpet a replica of the patch of grass he was using while with his littermates. He does his job and romps back to the bedroom, attracts attention by playing or whimpering, because he is hungry.
The owner showers all love and affection and feeds the pup. Then he picks up the pup and walks out, eyes still drooping with sleep. And his toe gets the first feel of the poop. And that’s it. Poor pooch gets thrashed, nose rubbed on his deed and shouted at. It is utter confusion for him.
How to make use of cleanliness instinct for house training will be a separate blog, but here I wish to emphasize that dogs do not have the set of rules we have about defecating and all. Do not expect your dog to be a gentleman from the day one. Even after training mistakes can occur. Even our own children and elders often commit such mistakes accidentally-we do not have to thrash them. Similarly why thrash a pup for doing something which according to his instinct he did perfectly.
Grooming is a part of cleanliness instinct. All of us stand in front of the mirror to ensure that everything is in order, hairs are in place and the make up is not smudged etc. Poor animals do not have mirrors. They groom each other. It is a common sight amongst monkeys, birds, cats and dogs etc. Many times help of other living beings is also taken; for example, a common sight in the Zoo is bird-picking teeth of Hippos. As compared to dogs, cats have this instinct far better developed. They spend most of their lives licking them clean.
Cats are very discrete about passing their excreta. They tend to find a secluded spot and later cover the mess with loose soil. If you rear a dog and a cat together, you will notice that most of the time cat licks the dog. Dogs groom themselves to quite an extent, but the domesticated ones depend for grooming more on their masters. Moreover, except few breeds like Dachshund, all can not reach every nook and corner of their bodies. The Dachshunds have a loose and supple skin. Consequently, they are able to make a 360 0 turn. Naturally they are able to clean even their backs with their tongue. The habit of self-grooming is nature’s way of keeping the animal clean.
The owners should carefully observe the instinct in dogs, as it is useful for many things. For example, the instinct to move away from their lair to excrete can be used for making the dog do his ‘job’ outside the house. Under normal circumstances the dog licks his body parts cleaned and he should not be discouraged from doing so. An obsession for licking indicates that something is wrong. The spot should be carefully examined to locate the cause. Sometimes instead of licking they start biting and look as if trying to ingest something. This is common if the dog is infected with flea or lice. Ingestion of flea can cause Tapeworm infection. In case fleas are seen, effective measures should be taken to make the dog free from them.
Since cleaning is an instinct, dogs go on licking any wound on their body. Excess licking can enlarge the wound and may hamper the healing process.
It is difficult to train or stop the dog doing actions as per his instinct. One can overlook the normal licking for grooming which all dogs do daily. But repeated licking of an infected spot or area cannot be permitted. Persistence of such habit warrants examination of the dog by the Vet. A daily grooming routine established by the owner goes a long way in keeping the dog’s skin healthy and glowing. Regularly groomed dogs lick themselves only if an extraneous matter is on their body. In addition regular grooming helps you to inspect the dogs’ body for any infection etc.
Some breeds such as German shepherd have an outer harsh coat and an inner wooly coat. Daily grooming with a wire brush is a must for them. Else the amount of hair ingested by a GSD while self-grooming can even cause obstruction in the intestines.
The homing instinct is present all animals. It is surprising to find that the migratory birds fly thousands of kilometers during winters from Siberia to our country and are able to fly back to their homes, as if guided by some mysterious power. Dogs wander off in search of a mate or even otherwise and if not crushed under the wheels of an automobile, are able to retrace their steps to their homes. Cats seldom stay at home, yet come back at feed time or to get the homely comforts when needed. This instinct seems to be really pronounced in birds. Pigeons fly back to their homes after a daily morning exercise flight. Instances of the birds living in ships, returning back to their ship are recorded in our poetry.
Dog puppies reflect the instinct right from the birth. A few hours’ old puppy with his eyes yet to develop may accidentally roll away from the dam and his littermates. He is able to crawl back, sniffing his way to his dam. He seeks her with the help of smell and the body heat radiated by her. Nature has made such arrangement that the body temperature of the dam rises after the birth of the puppies. This keeps them warm and also helps them in locating her in case they go ‘astray’. Gradually, with the growth of the puppies their area of exploration increases. They manage to return to their dam even when their eyes are not yet open.
By the time the puppies are about 21 days old and have started to wobble instead of crawling, they go away from the dam to excrete. Soon the puppy is independent and goes to a new home. The first thing he does is to go around the place, sniffing and exploring. In case a ‘living place’ is assigned to him after arrival in the new home, he returns to it after his explorations. If no place is assigned he locates a place convenient for him self and returns to it each time he goes out. The instinct of identifying a home is so powerful; that if you change is place he may even resent. Dogs living in a kennel in large numbers go to their respective enclosure or room after returning from a walk or play. They do not like their ‘house’ to be intruded by their own mate.
This instinct should be made use of by providing him a comfortable ‘home’, preferably made of a front open box or a basket. It should be put at a place from where the pup can observe the activities of the house, without interfering in it. If possible for the initial period of house training the area where his box is placed may be enclosed. Soon you will observe that the puppy never soils his box and wants to go out of the enclosure as well for doing his ‘job’.
Dogs are attached to the master and soon realize that his home is their home. When they go out of the house on a leash or without it, they keep on sniffing and identifying their path. The information on all the odors are registered in their brain. They return by recapitulating the variety of odors that are imprinted in their brain. Sometimes owners disgusted with their dog, carry him in car and dump him far away from their house. After few days one fine morning the dog reappears at their gate. While being driven off, the dog keeps on sniffing the air and retains the smell in his memory. It takes him few days to retrace his steps after he is able to identify the smells he experienced while being driven off.
In addition to their powerful nose, there appears to be a sort of hidden GPS installed in their brains. They seem to find their home without much effort. On the very first evening of my posting at Jammu, I set out with my Labrador retriever on a long walk. While returning home I lost my way in the dark. But the dog guided me back as if he was a permanent resident of the locality.