Dog Sociology - Level 1
The Sociable Dog
Learn about the social nature of dogs, the history of the human-dog bond, the nature of dogs’ social drive and the importance of training.
By Amy Fernandez
The human-canine partnership dates back 15,000 years. Dogs accompanied ancient humans as they colonized every continent, trekking from Asia to America and sailing the Pacific to Australia. Dogs made themselves invaluable along the way. They hunted, guarded livestock, protected homes, pulled sleds and most importantly they became cherished companions.
By nature, dogs are social animals
The innovative relationship between man and dog was probably initiated by mutual survival needs and similarities in human and canine social strategies. Both wolves – the dog’s ancestor – and humans understood the advantages of living within a group.
This arrangement made it easier to find food, protect the homestead and fend off enemies. But it also required finely tuned cooperative behavior to avoid continuous conflict within the pack. Domestic violence is never a worthwhile survival strategy. By interacting with adults, wolf cubs learned to interpret social cues, deflect aggression and defer to dominant individuals.
Dogs have coexisted with people for 15,000 years
Domestication was likely triggered by a combination of factors. Humans began cultivating crops and living in permanent settlements. This led to the world’s first food surplus and garbage-disposal problem – two continuing sources of fascination for dogs.
Humans also invented spear points and long-range hunting. This method was more effective, but also created a need to track prey. Of course, keen canine senses have proven useful in many other ways. Both dogs and wolves automatically distinguish pack members from strangers, but only dogs bark to sound a warning. Hunting and guarding were probably the dog’s first roles, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Dogs are different than people
Dogs interpret our feelings, anticipate our actions, appreciate the comforts of our homes and often seem almost human. It’s great having them around, but it’s important to respect them for what they are.
Dogs interpret the world from the standpoint of survival and self interest. They disregard things that we consider important, like clean floors, and devote tremendous effort to activities we deem irrelevant. No matter how well fed they may be, dogs obsess about their next meal.
They constantly read intentions, form conclusions and make spot-on decisions that help them function in our world. But these are learned associations, not rational thoughts. Dogs don’t plot, plan or consider long-term consequences.
Living in harmony
Dogs remain right in tune with their ancestral life lessons. In large part, their amazing skills stem from hardwired instinct. This is good in some ways. They reliably warn us about intruders – no training required. However, without training, a chronic barking problem becomes the downside of this deal.
Instinct is not only bundled with the canine software; these behaviors are self-rewarding. If a little play biting, barking and jumping is good, more is better. Unfortunately, few people appreciate canine antics like this, even when they are meant in the nicest way.
Training won’t eliminate instinctive behavior, but it will keep it within acceptable bounds – most of the time. It will ensure that your dog is regarded as a model citizen, rather than a canine delinquent.
Man’s responsibility to dogs
Dogs help us in ways our ancestors never envisioned. They detect bombs, cancer and bedbugs, and speed our recovery from illness. They have enhanced our lives, but our world has changed dramatically since this partnership was forged. We’ve changed, but dogs stick with the strategies that have served them well since prehistory.
They tailor their actions to maximize positive results. If something succeeds, they remember and repeat that behavior. Positive-reinforcement training has become popular not only because it’s kinder; dogs instinctively relate to the idea of being rewarded when they get it right.
Amy Fernandez is the author of four books, including “Breeding as a Fine Art.”
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