Biology and Behavior

Variety of appearances, temperaments and skills

Dogs are the descendants of wolves and belong to the family of the canidae. For centuries, desired characteristics in dogs have been bred, defined as belonging to a specific race, and standardized. Dogs are predators and their senses, primarily their sense of smell and hearing, are outstanding. There are approx. 400 different dog breeds worldwide. In terms of size and form, dogs differ tremendously from their ancestors. Dogs are very popular because of their skill to adapt to new living spaces and circumstances as well as their ability to learn. Our civilization would be unimaginable without dogs.


Exercise is a must

As a predator, a dog has hardly any natural enemies. Moreover, dogs are arduous runners (wolves are natural chasers and hunters). On an average, wolves trot or run for up to ten hours a day, thus laying back up to one hundred kilometers. The daily activity time of dogs varies according to race and use.


Hunting and feeding

Wolves and dogs eat only meat. Wolves hunt larger prey in packs and smaller prey, such as mice, on their own. Not every pack hunt proves to be successful, which is why a wolf can eat 10 – 20% of its own body weight at one time. Part of the food is then retched out again and buried as a reserve. This is possible thanks to the dilatable stomachs of wolves. Wolf-like behavior, e.g. the burying of food or bones, cookies, etc. can also be observed in dogs. Dogs also hide food reserves – in the garden, on the sofa, or under a cushion. Moreover, dogs also chase larger animals, such as cats, and hunt smaller animals, such as mice.


Communication is important

Wolves and dogs are social animals that live in packs and adhere to strict hierarchical structures – which can be observed among stray dogs.


Their social behavior is extremely varied and helps them to learn and to maintain their social structure. The pack obeys its own dynamics and rules, with individual members constantly trying to improve upon their social standing. In our civilization, dogs usually live in „human-dog packs“. Marking plays an important role in communication between dogs, because it provides information on the physiological state of the other dog or its sex.


Sexual conduct and birthing

Bitches are in heat once or twice a year and bleed during this phase. When releasing urine, they also release hormones and thus signal their willingness to mate. During mating, the male remains in the bitch for anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour. Pregnancies last for 64 to 68 days. Shortly prior to giving birth, the female will have a pear-like belly, then her rectal temperature will rise and the contractions will set in. On an average, bitches whelp 3 – 10 puppies. The female will allow her puppies to suckle; she will keep them warm and clean as well as generally caring for them until their weaning.


Development of puppies

The development of puppies is subject to several different important phases. Puppies learn to come to terms with their environment and to socialize. This process lasts approx. one and a half years and can be divided into the following phases:


  • 1st – 2nd week of life → Vegetative phase:
    The puppy is blind and perceives its environment through contact, warmth and smell. Its radius of action is limited to the proximity of its mother.
  • 2nd – 3rd week of life → Transitory phase:

    The puppy opens its eyes and begins to leave the birthing box for short periods.
  • 4th – 7/9th week of life → Imprinting phase:
    The puppy becomes aware of its surrounding and social environment. It begins to adopt different forms of behavior towards other dogs, humans, cats, etc. If deficits occur during this phase, for instance due to isolation, they prove to be very difficult to correct later on.
  • 8th – 16th week of life → Socialization phase:
    The puppy learns the basics of co-habitation and social behavior. This phase is decisive for the puppy’s future life.
  • 13th – 20th week of live → Ranking phase: The puppy finds its rank or standing among its social partners.
  • 5th – 6th month → Pack ranking phase:
    The puppy’s teeth change and it begins to find and strengthen its position in the pack.
  • 7th – 12th month → Puberty phase (depends on the race):

    A male dog will (as a rule) lift its leg for the first time and a bitch will be in heat for the first time. During this phase dogs often seem to be defiant and to have forgotten all that they have learnt.
  • 12th – 18th month → Maturity phase (depends on the race):
During this phase, it will become clear whether a dog was optimally supported or not and whether it was able to develop without any deficits. Pleasure in learning new skills and in contact with humans and other animals are proof of a sound development.


The dog is now psychologically mature and its behavior will be very difficult to change from now on. Positive as well as negative experiences will determine its actions from now on.


Learning playfully

braun-weisser Welpe kaut an einem Zweig
© Gabi Trachsel

Further information


Literature on the topic

  • Beschwichtigungssignale, Turid Rugaas, Animal Learn Verlag (Appeasement signals)
  • Hundepsychologie, Wesen und Sozialverhalten, Dorit Feddersen-Petersen, Kosmos Verlag (Dog psychology, nature and social conduct)
  • Hundeverhalten – das Lexikon, Andrea Weidt, RORO-Press (Dog behavior – an encyclopedia)