domestic dogs are not wolves, and some interesting evidence about the
difference between dogs and wolves comes from the way that they form
attachments with other living beings. It may well be the case that we have
selectively bred dogs to love humans more than they love animals of their own
species. I use the word "love" even though psychologists and
behavioral biologists tend to shy away from the word,
and prefer terms like "attachment" or
"bonding". Many scientists have the feeling that the word
"love" is reserved for poets and songwriters, rather than hard-nosed
researchers. Furthermore, a number of researchers who accept love as a valid
feeling to reference to humans, still have doubts as to whether dogs can
actually experience that same emotion.
As is often the case, we are often led to
wrong conclusions about the nature of dog behavior based upon observations of
captive wolves. Over the past half century it has become common place to assume
that since dogs were likely domesticated from wolves that we get a clearer and
undistorted look at the natural behavioral predispositions of dogs by looking at
what wolves do. Thus it is well known that wolves that are isolated from other
members of their pack become anxious. If they are in unfamiliar settings they
seem to draw comfort from having members of their pack around them.
Furthermore, wolves seldom form close attachments to their human captors. From
this people have assumed that dogs naturally bond with other canines, and their
attachment to people is secondary.
Are Breeders Creating Less Intelligent Dogs? Science, Truth and
A National Census of Mixed Breed Dogs
Why Are Some Litter Pups Uniform in Appearance While Others Are
Why Dogs Touch Noses: Communication and More
Where Does Your Dog Rank? The New List Ranking Breeds by Popularity Is
animals involved in this research were eight mixed breed dogs who were 7 to 9
years of age. They had been living as littermate pairs in kennels since they
were eight weeks old. All these dogs had been fully socialized when they were
young and were quite comfortable around people. They were being looked after by
one caretaker who, at least as
far as the dogs were concerned, was their owner. The important factor for us is
that when the experiment began these kennel mates had not been separated from
each other (even for a few minutes) over the previous two years, and had seldom
been apart during their entire lifetimes.
test their attachment to each other, one member of each pair was removed from
the kennel for four hours and the remaining animal was observed. If you take a
puppy away from its litter mates it will usually whimper and act distressed
until it is reunited with its litter mates, however these adult dogs, when left
alone in their kennel, did not show any evidence of anxiety. They rarely barked
or paced, and the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their blood
didn't change as a result of their separation from their kennel mate. This was
true as long as the remaining dog was left in its familiar pen.
situation was quite different when the dogs were placed alone in an unfamiliar
kennel. Now they clearly showed signs of unease and apprehension. They became
agitated and their stress hormone level went up by more than 50 percent. The
most important finding is that this increase in anxiety happened whether the
dog was alone or if it had been moved to the unfamiliar place in the company of
its kennel mate. In this unfamiliar place the dogs did not interact very much,
and did not seem to draw comfort from the presence of their usual partner as
shown by the level of stress hormone in their blood.
situation was quite different, however, when their human caretaker sat quietly
with each dog in this new and strange situation. Under these circumstances the
dog would stay close to the human and would try to get him to interact and make
contact. In response to this comfort-seeking behavior, the caretaker would
briefly stroke the dog. This interaction with a human seemed to be enough to
reduce the dogs level of anxiety almost completely. This was verified by the
fact that the stress hormone level remained very close to normal in the
presence of the person.
conclusion that one can draw from this is that these dogs were behaving as if
they had a stronger bond with their human caretaker then with their brother or
sister, despite the fact that they been in the company of that dog for all of
their lives. This was true even though these dogs have not led the same kind of
living experience as a pet dog has, and therefore have not had continued
intimate contact that pet dogs have with their human owners.
we are to draw any comparison between dogs and wolves based on this research,
it would be to note that dogs, like wolves, do have territories, at least in
the sense that they feel most comfortable when they are in familiar places. We
know that in the wild, wolves can move to new places without any rise in their
stress levels, as long as they are in the company of members of their pack. The
same is true of dogs, however it appears that the most significant pack member
is likely to be a human (usually the dog's owner) and not another individual of
its own species. For most dogs their owner has been a constant feature in their
lives since they were puppies. It appears that we not only bred dogs to accept
dogs and humans as relevant social partners, but to view humans as being more
significant socially than other canines.
has important implications for when dogs are being re-homed. Shelters often
feel that dogs who have lived together in pairs must only be adopted out to a
new home which is willing to take both dogs. If we extrapolate from the present
research this seems like an unnecessary practice, as long as the home to which
each dog is going has an individual human that the dog can bond with.
Fortunately research has shown that dogs can quickly bond with a new human
being based upon only a few minutes of friendly attention over a couple of days.
are not wolves. We now have data that suggests that we have selectively bred
the domestic dog so that it is strongly biased to love humans (or at least one
human) more strongly than it loves other dogs.
books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why
Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak
Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs,
Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves,
The Left-hander Syndrome