Reflexive, Instinctive, and Learned Behaviors in Farm Dogs


This article aims to provide an overview of reflexive, instinctive, and learned behaviors exhibited by farm dogs. It presents examples of each type of behavior and highlights the importance of understanding these behaviors in maintaining a well-adjusted, productive working farm dog. In doing so, it also emphasizes the potential for enhancing the dog’s well-being and effectiveness on the farm.


Farm dogs play a vital role in assisting farmers with various tasks such as herding, guarding livestock, and protecting property. Understanding the reflexive, instinctive, and learned behaviors of farm dogs is crucial in managing and training these animals effectively. This article outlines examples of each type of behavior and provides further reading recommendations.

Reflexive Behaviors

Reflexive behaviors are automatic, involuntary responses to specific stimuli. Examples of reflexive behaviors in farm dogs include:

  1. Blinking: A dog will blink in response to an object or dust coming towards its eyes.
  2. Sneezing: A dog sneezes to clear its nasal passages when it senses an irritant.
  3. Shaking: A dog will shake its body to remove water or debris from its fur.
  4. Pupil dilation: A dog’s pupils will dilate in response to low light levels to improve vision.
  5. Gagging: A dog will gag or retch to expel foreign objects or harmful substances from its mouth.

Instinctive Behaviors

Instinctive behaviors are natural, inherited actions that animals perform to increase their chances of survival. Examples of instinctive behaviors in farm dogs include:

  1. Herding: Many farm dogs have a natural instinct to herd and protect livestock.
  2. Digging: Dogs may instinctively dig holes to create a den, hide food, or search for prey.
  3. Barking: Dogs bark to alert their owners of potential threats or to communicate with other dogs.
  4. Mating: The mating behavior of dogs is instinctual and ensures the continuation of their species.
  5. Guarding: Farm dogs may instinctively protect their territory, humans, or livestock from potential threats.

Learned Behaviors

Learned behaviors are acquired through experience or training. Examples of learned behaviors in farm dogs include:

  1. Obedience training: Farm dogs can learn specific commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “heel” through training.
  2. Leash walking: Dogs can learn to walk on a leash without pulling or straying from their owner’s side.
  3. Crate training: Dogs can be trained to view a crate as a safe space and willingly enter it when needed.
  4. Livestock-specific tasks: Through training, farm dogs can learn to perform specialized tasks, such as guiding livestock through gates or separating specific animals from a group.
  5. Tricks and agility: Farm dogs can learn various tricks, like rolling over or playing dead, and participate in agility courses, which require them to navigate obstacles, jumps, and tunnels.


Understanding the reflexive, instinctive, and learned behaviors of farm dogs is crucial for proper training and management. By recognizing these behaviors, farmers can maximize their dog’s potential and ensure their well-being on the farm.

Further Reading

  1. Coppinger, R., & Coppinger, L. (2001). Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. Scribner.
  2. Fogle, B. (2009). The Dog’s Mind: Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior. Wiley Publishing.
  3. Horowitz, A. (2010). Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Scribner.
  4. McConnell, P. B. (2002). The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. Ballantine Books.
  5. Reid, P. J. (1996). Excel-erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them. James & Kenneth Publishers.
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Tony Bierman, "Reflexive, Instinctive, and Learned Behaviors in Farm Dogs," OBTESA, Accessed June 18, 2024,