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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dog Sense

I highly recommend this read to anyone interested in animal behavior or the "pack theory". It is sitting on my coffee table as I write, along with several other "dog books" as my family calls them, or "lunch" as Bailey calls them. Sheila

Excerpt from Dog Sense by Dr. John Bradshaw
The dog has been our faithful companion for tens of thousands of years. Today, dogs
live alongside humans all across the globe, often as an integral part of our
families. To many people, a world without dogs is unthinkable.

And yet dogs today unwittingly find themselves on the verge of a crisis, struggling to
keep up with the ever-increasing pace of change in human society. Until just
over a hundred years ago, most dogs worked for their living. Each of the breeds
or types had become well suited, over thousands of years and a corresponding
number of generations, to the task for which they were bred. First and
foremost, dogs were tools. Their agility, quick thinking, keen senses, and
unparalleled ability to communicate with humans suited them to an extraordinary
diversity of tasks — hunting, herding, guarding, and many others, each an
important component of the economy. In short, dogs had to earn their keep;
apart from the few lapdogs who were the playthings of the very rich, the
company that dogs provided would have been incidental, rewarding, but not their
raison d'ĂȘtre. Then, a few dozen generations ago, everything began to change —
and these changes are still gathering pace today.
Indeed, an ever-increasing proportion of dogs are never expected to work at all; their
sole function is to be family pets. Although many working types have
successfully adapted, others were and still are poorly suited to this new role,
so it is perhaps surprising that none of the breeds that are most popular as
family pets have been specifically and exclusively designed as such. Thus far,
dogs have done their best to adjust to the many changes and restrictions we
have imposed upon them — in particular, our expectation that they will be
companionable when we need them to be and unobtrusive when we don't. However,
the cracks inherent in this compromise are beginning to widen. As human society
continues to change and the planet becomes ever more crowded, there are signs
that the popularity of dogs as pets has peaked and that their adaptation to yet
another lifestyle may be a struggle — especially in urban environments. After
all, dogs, as living beings, cannot be reengineered every decade or so as if
they were computers or cars. In the past, when dogs' functions were mostly
rural, it was accepted that they were intrinsically messy and needed to be
managed on their own terms. Today, by contrast, many pet dogs live in
circumscribed, urban environments and are expected to be simultaneously better
behaved than the average human child and as self-reliant as adults. As if these
new obligations were not enough, many dogs still manifest the adaptations that
suited them for their original functions — traits that we now demand they cast
away as if they had never existed. The collie who herds sheep is the shepherd's
best friend; the pet collie who tries to herd children and chases bicycles is
an owner's nightmare. The new, unrealistic standards to which many humans hold
their dogs have arisen from one of several fundamental misconceptions about
what dogs are and what they have been designed to do. We must come to better
understand their needs and their nature if their niche in human society is not
to diminish.

Our rapidly changing expectations are not the only challenge that dogs face today.
The ways in which we now control their reproduction also represent a major
challenge to their well-being. For much of human history, dogs were bred to
suit the roles that humankind assigned to them — but whether their task was
herding, retrieving, guarding, or hauling, dogs' stability and functionality
were considered far more important than their type or appearance. In the late
nineteenth century, however, dogs were grouped into self-contained breeds,
reproductively isolated from one another, and each assigned a single ideal
appearance, or "standard," by breed societies. For many dogs this
rigid categorization has not worked out well; rather, it has worked against
their need to adapt into their new primary role as companions. Each breeder
strives not to breed the perfect pet but to produce the perfect-looking dog who
will succeed in the show-ring. These winning dogs are considered prized stock
and make a hugely disproportionate genetic contribution to the next generation
— resulting in "pure" breeds whose idealized appearance belies their
deteriorated health. In the 1950s, most breeds still had a healthy range of
genetic variation; by 2000, only some twenty to twenty-five generations later,
many had been inbred to the point where hundreds of genetically based
deformities, diseases, and disadvantages had emerged, potentially compromising
the welfare of every purebred dog. In the UK, the growing rift between dog
breeders and those concerned with dogs' welfare finally became public in 2008,
resulting in the withdrawal of the humane charities — and subsequently that of
BBC Television, the event's broadcaster—from Crufts, the country's national dog
show. While such protests are a start, the dogs themselves will not feel any
benefit until the problems brought about by excessive inbreeding have been
reversed and dogs are bred with their health and role in society, not their
looks, in mind.

Ultimately, people will have to change their attitudes if the dog's lot is to improve. So
far, however, neither the experts nor the average owner have had their
preconceived notions challenged by the wealth of new science that is emerging
about dogs. Much of the public debate thus far, whether about the merits of
outbreeding versus inbreeding or the effectiveness of training methods, has
amounted to little more than the statement and restatement of entrenched
opinions. This is where scientific understanding becomes essential, for it can
tell us what dogs are really like and what their needs really
amount to.
Science is an essential tool for understanding dogs, but the contributions of canine
science to dog welfare have, unfortunately, been somewhat mixed. Canine
science, which originated in the 1950s, sets out to provide a rational
perspective on what it's like to be a dog — a perspective ostensibly more
objective than the traditional human-centered or anthropomorphic view of their
natures. Despite this attempt at detachment, however, canine scientists have
occasionally misunderstood—and even given others the license to cause injury to
— the very animals whose nature they have endeavored to reveal.

Science has, unwittingly, done the most damage to dogs by applying the comparative
zoology approach to studies of dog behavior. Comparative zoology is a
well-established and generally valuable way of understanding the behavior and
adaptations of one species through comparisons with those of another. Species
that are closely related but have different lifestyles can often be better
understood through comparative zoology, because differences in the way they
look and behave mirror those changes in lifestyle; so, too, can those species
that have come to have similar lives but are genetically unrelated. This method
has been highly successful in helping to disentangle the mechanisms of
evolution in general, especially now that similarities and differences in
behavior can be compared with differences between each species' DNA, so as to
pinpoint the genetic basis of behavior.
Yet although the applications of comparative zoology are usually benign, it has
done considerable harm to dogs, as one expert after another has interpreted
their behavior as if they were, under the surface, little altered from that of
their ancestor, the wolf. Wolves, which have generally been portrayed as vicious
animals, constantly striving for dominance over every other member of their own
kind, have been held up as the only credible model for understanding the
behavior of dogs.1
This supposition leads inevitably to the
misconception that every dog is constantly trying to control its owner—unless
its owner is relentless in keeping it in check. The conflation of dog and wolf
behavior is still widely promoted in books and on television programs, but
recent research on both dogs and wolves has shown not only that it is simply
unfounded but also that dogs who do come into conflict with their owners are
usually motivated by anxiety, not a surfeit of ambition. Since this fundamental
misunderstanding has crept into almost every theory of dog behavior, it will be
the first to be addressed in this book.

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