A guest blog from fellow Dog Listener Nigel Reed.
Are dogs like wolves?
A common question when training our dogs is “Are dogs similar to their ancestor the wolf and can we learn from their ancestors?”
The answer will vary hugely depending on the sources opinion. Evidence suggests but no one is sure that the dog evolved from the wolf around 50 000 years ago. The reason how this sub species was created was due to human intervention and selective breeding. It is speculated a few brave wolves came close to our ancestor’s territory in search of a free meal in our leftovers and a friendship evolved over time. The relationship made sense with wolves helping us to hunt with their superior tracking abilities and provided us with protection and we delivered the most precious commodity, food.
These wolves that had us as their allies were no longer subjected to the tough world of natural selection and so their brains shrank in size along with their jaws. Over time these ‘wolves’ bred with each other time and time again and humans then saw the benefit in selective breeding to produce the huge varied species we have of dog today.
Are they related?
Dogs have in fact ‘devolved’ from the wolf. There is no match between the wolves’ strength and the dogs. Even a Pit Bulls bite pressure is not as strong as a wolf’s. But it was through domesticating the dog with their infectious personality, friendship, loyalty and character which secured their places in our homes.
Through domestication we bred dogs for specific purposes to help us work/hunt and live. As we played God by selective breeding to produce the breeds of dog that exist today, we have bred a few breeds with severe health abnormalities that are questioned by many vets and experts. Their appearance has dramatically changed and as a result their health has suffered in many cases e.g. British Bulldogs pelvises are too small compared to their heads, which often leads to many caesarean births.
It is hard to envisage that “theoretically” a Chihuahua could breed with a Great Dane and produce offspring but we all know it can as it is the same species.
Similarly the Gray wolf can breed with any dog and produce fertile offspring, again the definition of the same species or at least the same genus.
How much has changed?
Wolves have existed for roughly 4 000 000 years. This is an inconceivable amount of time to understand how long they have been successfully surviving as nature’s perfect design. As we took them into our homes comparably in a short amount of time we have produced one of the most diverse species on earth.
Although their appearance had dramatically changed, dogs like humans and all other animals are instinct led. Dogs are pack animals and in every pack situation such as a family/business/education etc there needs to be someone in charge to ensure a smooth running.
In the wild wolves operate as a strict hierarchy with the alphas being at the top of the pack. The pack is often made up with the alphas as the parents and the siblings as the subordinates. The alphas’ have three jobs to for fill.
- To protect the pack
- To find food
- To breed
As pack animals ourselves you may notice that these are three main responsibilities that human parents also share.
Wolves’ body language is imperative in staying alive. They communicate with howls, whimpers, growls, whines, smell, eye movements, posture, tail, stance, height, heckles, mouth, teeth, active/passive submission etc etc.
Dogs also communicate by whimpers, growls, whines, smell, eye movements, posture, tail, stance, height, heckles, mouth, teeth, active/passive submission etc etc.
The domestic pack
Dogs also form a pack and once again there has to be a leader. The problems that arise from the dogs’ behaviour is when the dog has the three responsibilities of a leader/parents.
- To protect the pack
- To find food
- To breed
The dog cannot comfortably for fill this role in our human world because they do not have the same informed perception as we do. We understand our world, we know what the postman is, what fireworks are, what joggers are doing, where other dogs seem to be heading, but the dog does not. Then if the dog believes he is leader he has a problem as his first responsibility to protect the pack from these “perceived dangers” will result in the defence response of flight, freeze or fight. This will cause the dog unnecessary stress as they will never be equipped to understand the world like YOU do.
The way to help a dog is to become the leader of your pack so the dog looks to you for the decisions to help him assess the world that he does not understand. Then when a potential threat approaches the dog will look for your reaction. Your reaction will be ‘its fine’ so he will think, if they are fine then I trust them, so I’ll be fine.
Being elected the leader
Your dog must elect you leader by his own free will, he will not like being bullied but prefer, that like all great leaders you will stay calm, convincing and consistent in times of trouble and lead by example.
The good news is that if you can communicate to your dog in his language, that you can do a great job in areas where he asks questions, then the dog will happily step down.
Wolf language is gentle, admittedly it can become heated as it does in nature when there is a limited amount of food and death can be the price for not competing but this is a small part. The alphas rule with 95% responsibility and 5% authority. It is often the 5% which makes television as people would become bored watching the 95 % gentle nurturing and bonding that takes place. It is the 95% that should be practised with your dog and you will see amazing results.
“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better” Albert Einstein
Some people passionately believe dogs are not like wolves but remember they are still 99.8% genetically identical to wolves. That is a huge percentage and to disregard that fact will result in never being able to explain some of their behaviour. It is common practice to anthropomorphise (placing human characteristics on animals) but remember they anthropomorphise us. Understanding the communication, ecology and life cycle of the wolf and then domesticate and integrate into our alien society and you will understand why the dog acts as he does. Like us some are born leaders, followers and all perceive life differently through their internal representation of the world.
However, one thing in common we all want and need are great leaders to help us when we need guidance!
By Nigel Reed
For more information go to www.dogtraininginlondon.co.uk