Dogs Are Not Wolves.
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To begin with let’s clear up a common misconception. Domestic Dogs (Canis Familiaris) have not evolved directly from wolves (Canis Lupus). Evolution is not that simple.
While the wolf is a very distant ancestor, as with apes and humans domestic dogs cannot give sole credit to the wolf for their existence.
This credit must be shared. Between the first wolves to walk the earth and the domestic dogs of today, a number of separate species evolved. Some of these were known as wolf-like dogs.
Granted, these wolves chose to break away from a pack to investigate the apparent advantages of living closer to smaller human settlements.
Through living this way they began to consume fewer calories and became tamer. Their temperaments changed. Their physical structures changed. Their teeth grew smaller as did their skulls. Their brains became 20 to 25 percent smaller than the wolf’s brain.
Wolf-like dogs developed into a number of species of their own and it is from them that the domestic dog was born.
In 1999 Juliet Clutton-Brock confirmed that there were 38 species classified in the Canidae family.
Now you understand that the domestic dog cannot be like or act like a wolf, due to centuries of breeding between some of the very first wolf-like dogs.
Basic canine training principles of the past were formulated using research conducted on wolf packs in captivity. However, not only were the researchers studying the wrong canine species, when attempting to find out more about the domestic dog, they were conducting their research in an unnatural environment.
Therefore, not only was their research on how wolf packs function incorrect (as a pack in captivity is unable to express natural behaviors), the information they gathered should never have been used as a foundation for understanding, let alone training, the domestic dog of today.
So, this is where we stand. There are still thousands upon thousands of dog owners who adhere to the ‘pack rules’ and ‘rank reduction programs’ formulated with this incorrect information.
More recent studies conducted by well-reputed scientists, animal trainers and behaviorists have proven the above as fact, not hearsay. Leaders in this field like Karen Pryor (Don’t Shoot The Dog – 2009) and Jean Donaldson (The Culture Clash – 1996) introduced new ways of training domestic dogs, ways that have been formulated to meet the needs of the domestic dog and the owner at no cost to the owner or dog emotionally, physically or mentally.
Perhaps You’ve Heard Of These ‘Pack Rules’ Before.
In the past dog owners were led to believe that dogs and humans form a pack when living together. How is it possible for two separate species to form a pack? Packs are always species specific.
It was believed that the owner should follow a few rules that would ultimately force the dog into seeing the owner as the Alpha of the pack. Here are a few examples of these rules.
1. Rule: Eat something in front of your dog before feeding him (or her).
The Alpha always eats first.
In the hierarchical structure of wolves breeding Alphas eat first if the prey is small. Pups will eat first if prey is scarce, but the pack will eat together if food is plenty. In a domestic environment food is probably plenty, so why eat before your dog?
2. Rule: Stand in your dog’s bed.
Alpha should be allowed to sleep wherever he/she wants to, even if it’s in another wolf’s spot.
Pups cuddle together to stay warm. As they grow older they develop a social distance and sleep apart. In a natural environment, wolves choose their own sleeping spots. In a captive environment, comfy spots may be scare. In some cases, a lower ranking wolf may actually offer the Alpha their spot, not because they fear the Alpha’s dominance, but rather because they want to show respect.
3. Rule: Don’t allow your dog on the furniture.
By allowing a dog on the furniture, he/she is elevated to a status equal to Alpha, diminishing the owner’s rights as Alpha.
Dogs will sleep wherever it’s comfortable!
4. Rule: Don’t let your dog lay at the top of the stairs.
Allowing a dog to sit higher diminishes the owner’s rights as Alpha.
Most animals instinctively sit at the highest point possible to keep a lookout.
5. Rule: Don’t let your dog lay in the doorway.
Lower-ranking wolves should act submissively and move out the way if they are obstructing the Alpha’s path. If they don’t it’s because they are trying to elevate their ranking.
An Alpha would never force a lower ranking wolf to move out of his/her way. In a domestic environment, it’s likely a dog will choose to sit in a doorway because the sun shines there and it’s warm!
6. Rule: Dogs that pull on the lead are dominant.
The Alpha leads the way.
The Alpha does not always lead the way because of his/her higher ranking. He/she may lead in an attempt to choose a suitable direction to travel in. In fact, any wolf may take the lead at any time.
A dog that pulls on the lead is simply saying (excuse the anthropomorphism), “Omigosh, look at that! Omigosh, can you smell that? Omigosh, WHAT is that? Omigosh, where’s that lizard going? This feels greeeeeat! I haven’t been for a walk for soooo long.” Pulling on the lead has nothing to do with dominance.
7. Rule: Put your dog in a down position when he/she does something wrong.
The dog must be scared of the owner/Alpha when he/she does something wrong and must show respect and be submissive in the owner’s/Alpha’s presence.
A lower ranking wolf may show respect to the Alpha by being submissive, which could include rolling on to their back. This is natural Canine behavior that should never be applied to a human/dog relationship. If a dog rolls on to his/her back in front of the owner, he/she is probably scared of the owner. Why would any dog owner want their dog to be scared of them? This brings about the question: who is eligible to own a dog?
And the list of rules goes on, but we can stop there for now. These examples should help you to see that pack rules, or rank reduction programs, are inappropriate on all levels of a dog/human relationship. They will damage any dog emotionally, hindering the development of any positive relationship between dog and owner.
What Is The Alternative?
The alternative is to understand the domestic dog of today, to understand that domestic dogs are not like wolves, to understand that the ‘Sit, Stay, Do As I Say’ approach will never lead to a healthy, happy relationship between human and dog.
If you have made any of these mistakes in the past, it’s not too late to change things. You can ‘teach an old dog new tricks’ if you are prepared to treat them the way they deserve to be treated – with love, respect, kindness, and loyalty.
In the articles to follow you will learn more about how dogs learn, the emotional and mental lives of domestic dogs, how to prepare your home for an adopted dog, the important stages of puppy training, predatory behavior and how to deal with these responses, basic training tips and so much more.
This series was written by Carly Van Heerden. Click the link below to continue with this series.
Part 1 of Dog Training | Part 2 >>