Canine Learning: Instinct vs Learned Intelligence

By on December 17, 2013

Can you train dogs to forget their natural instincts and just obey without question?

The relevant meaning of instinct given in a dictionary is as follows: "The natural impulse apparently independent of reason or experience by which animals are guided."

To Ryan O'Meara, this sounds very sensible. Take a puppy: every time he is asked to do something he doesn't want to do, or if he fears the approach of a bigger or fiercer dog than himself, he quickly lies on the floor with his legs in the air and tummy exposed to the enemy.

This attitude has come down through generations of domesticated dogs; yet it is the remains of an instinct of the wild. In the wild it would be highly unusual for young puppy to be attacked in this position; it is against the laws of nature.

This habit is a great hindrance in training, when a dog does it and you try to put his lead on, he just waves his legs in the air and bites, especially if you try to get hold of his collar. Therefore we must train these dogs to understand that this position will not save them from being made to do what we wish them to do.

instinct vs intelligence dog

Dogs are guided a lot by instinct, but a lot more by smell, and smell can vary considerably with individual people, according to their state of mind. For example,


Ryan O'Meara is the author of Clever Dog: Life Lessons from the World's Most Successful Animal, available online here.

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