November 25, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Dogs Part 1


Origins: Dogs and Society

By Dr Clive Dalton

  • The dog's ancestors evolved 35 million years ago and the modern dog has been traced using DNA in hair samples to a small group of female wolves living in East Asia some 15,000 years ago.
  • Man developed much later - some 3.5 million years ago and the dog was first on the domestication list. A recent hypothesis is that man and dog evolved together for long periods with man losing his sense of smell as he relied more on the dog.
The wolf pack
  • The wolf is a pack animal that hunts and lives communally and wolves have a very clear social hierarchy which was very similar to the human family. So wolves easily slotted into the early human family lifestyle.
  • The wolf pack is led by an alpha male and alpha female (order can reverse), and there are constant challenges going on in the pack such as these:
  • Young males are always fancying the top job.
  • Young males start to work their way up the order to the top.
  • Young males dominate young females.
  • Changes in order when new adolescents come into family.
  • Changes when old members leave or die.
  • Females protecting their young.
  • Females keeping the top male to herself.

Dog's benefits to early man
It's easy to imagine a stray wolf cub brought home and becoming a family pet followed by breeding and selection for many traits useful to man. For example the domesticated wolf could provide:
  • Companionship and entertainment - a play mate for the children.Protection - it would warn of strangers. Selection for barking would take place.
  • Hunting - the wolf would assist in the chase, especially appreciated by older humans as their speed was reduced by infirmity.
  • Warmth at nights - Eskimos talk of a 2- of 3-dog night.
  • Work and power - dogs are willing workers and can carry and pull loads.
  • Effluent disposal - the early dog would also keep the house area clean, and eat human effluent.
  • Meat and skins when it was slaughtered.
Recent DNA analysis

With recent DNA analysis, some scientists make the point that the relationship between humans and dogs makes no evolutionary sense. The DNA analysis now disproves the speculation about how man domesticated the wolf, and that the dog's hunting and herding instincts developed by selection long after domestication.

Then it's now accepted that today's wild dogs did not evolve from the wolf, as they are more social than wolves which were always loners to protect their territories to maintain a food supply. Modern wild dogs don't have the clear hierarchy seen in wolf packs and are much more social with a variety of dominance and submissive relationships. Neither do they have a strict territory like wolves do.

Impact of man on the dog
  • Consider the different types of dog we have today. There over 200 breeds ranging in weight from less than 1kg to about 100kg.
  • The question to consider is - have we've made genetic progress as perhaps some of these dogs (which many veterinarians consider have genetic defects) should have been euthanased and not saved for future breeding, or to form a new breed?
  • There is big money to be made if you breed a new genotype - and you have exclusive rights to it. You can use cloning to multiply it so it's maybe time to ask "should there be laws against further genetic change in a "wrong" direction?
  • Who's opinions do we accept and who needs to take control over what is done.
Dog's benefits to modern man

This list seems to get longer each year as people find new challenges for dogs and train them to achieve amazing feats well beyond the ability of man. Here are some examples:
  • Farm working dogs handling livestock of a wide range of species. Without them, much land could not be farmed - e.g. New Zealand hill country.
  • Used by conservationists to find pest species and feral animals. They can be trained to be very host specific so can find the species being protected for monitoring.
  • Trained to locate game, and retrieve it when shot.
  • Trained as guards to live with livestock and protect them from predators and thieves.
  • Trained as "seeing-eye" dogs for the blind.
  • Dogs guarding property that they see as their territory.
  • Search and rescue dogs to find people in avalanches and earthquakes.
  • To help people with impaired hearing.
  • Helping the disabled by pulling wheelchairs and doing simple chores.
  • Police dogs used to search for drugs and to find, attack and hold offenders.
  • To find people on land and across water –e.g. the Bloodhound and Newfoundland respectively.
  • Customs and Biosecurity dogs used to find drugs, fruit, etc.
  • Used to find truffles buried under the ground in orchards - traditionally done by pigs.
  • Trained to find the sites of old chemical dumps.
  • Military dogs to locate landmines and explosives as well as the enemy and snipers.
  • Trained to use their acute sense of smell to detect cancer cells and chemicals (ketones) from the nose of patients pre-seizure.
  • Companions to young and old.

The dog in modern society
  • After seeing the good things dogs do for man, it's important to consider the "problems" they cause in our sophisticated modern (urban) society.
  • But if you ask an Animal Control Officer about "dog problems" they'll remind you that they rarely see dog problems, - they deal instead with "people problems" as dog owners are the cause.

Examples of "dog problems" as man sees them

These dogs bark all day at anything passing by, as their human pack leaders (owners) are at work. From their viewpoint - they're doing a great job, and they also alert all the other dogs in the street to warn them of potential threats.

These dogs bark during the night too to warn their pack leaders of threats. But the owners are either deaf or don't care about neighbours and never stop them barking. The owners originally got two pups to be company for each other when they were out at work - so now they are two bored adult dogs instead of one - along with very annoyed neighbours who can do little about the problem under the law.
  • Dogs frightening people -rushing at people and biting them.
  • Damage to property when their owners are out at work.
  • Barking and annoying neighbours when their owners are away.
  • Wandering. Dogs that run away and cause annoyance as they move around.
  • Feral dogs living in town and country and threatening people, their pets and livestock.
  • Harassing, mauling and killing livestock.
  • Reproduction. Producing endless unwanted puppies that are dumped or handed to SPCAs to dispose of.
  • Obesity. Grossly overfat dogs and dogs with other dietary problems.
  • Confusion. Dogs are confused by their owners. It appears as if the dogs think they are human and the humans think they are dogs!
  • Hierarchy confusion. The dog is confused about where it stands in the household as the rules are not consistent.
  • Faeces in public places which other dogs then add to.
  • Territorial aggression - where dogs attack to protect their home range.
  • Genetic aggression - dogs bred for aggression that when stimulated savage anything they see as a threat - people, other dogs and livestock.
  • Over-stimulated scatty dogs that annoy owners and visitors and can become aggressive.
  • Mutilation required by breed standards e.g. tail and ear docking. Also "debarking" dogs by veterinarians for owners who cannot find another solution to their persistent barking dog.
  • Problems caused by breed standards that require veterinary treatment - jaws, teeth and birth problems.
  • Sexual habits - leg mounting and sniffing people.
  • Dogs in the human pack.
Dogs are pack animals
Dogs prefer to live with dogs which is often a surprise to humans! Here are some important points to remember:
  • Dogs like clear simple rules that are consistent.
  • Dogs understand dogs! Humans can be very confusing.
  • Dogs interpret human behaviour in a canine way and humans interpret dog behaviour in a human way.
The human pack from a dog's viewpoint
  • Humans change clothes every day.
  • Humans are not consistent in the way they smell.
  • Humans change moods regularly.
  • Humans are inconsistent in what they do each day.
  • Different members of the human pack often have different rules.
  • Humans can love you one moment and hate you the next.
  • Humans make a fuss of you to show their love, and then go away and leave you.
  • They die, split up and move house and cause confusion. (These are the three greatest man-dog bond breakers.
So when human shows inconsistency, then a confused dog is tempted to take the lead to sort things out and regain consistency.

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