Dogs have instincts; they’re just like wolves. Have you heard this said before? If so, you need to understand that it’s a common misconception based on poorly researched information. Indeed domestic dogs of today (Canis Familiaris) have not evolved directly from wolves (Canis Lupus). Evolution is not that simple.
While the wolf is a distant ancestor, wolf-like dogs and wolves are more like monkeys and apes; we see them as being the same but they are not. Wolves should not be given sole credit for the existence of domestic dogs today, because between the first wolves found on Earth and domestic dogs of today, a number of separate species evolved. Some of these were known as wolf-like dogs.
Yes, in general one can say – “But if wolf-like dogs started out as wolves who chose to break away from a pack to benefit from the advantages of living closer to smaller humans, essentially our dogs evolved from wolves.” However, to ignore the many species that came after the first wolves would be wrong, because so very much has happened to canines since they were even remotely related to wolves. Indeed, everything that happened to them is what makes them a species separate from wolves – even in scientific terms i.e. Canis Familiaris vs. Canis Lupus.
Wolf-like dogs evolved to form a number of species, and it’s from those separate species that the domestic dog came to be. Breaking away from the pack, some wolves began to consume fewer calories – because although they were given food by humans it was often not enough. They also became tamer which altered their temperaments. Over time their entire physical structures changed. Their teeth grew smaller as did their skulls. In fact, their brains seemingly shrunk to be twenty to twenty-five percent smaller than the wolves’.
In 1999, Juliet Clutton-Brock confirmed that there are as any as thirty-eight species classified in the Canidae family.
Understanding these changes should help you to realize that domestic dogs can never be like or act like wolves, due to hundreds of years of inter-breeding and resulting physical changes in some of the first wolf-like dogs.
Here’s where Trainers of the Past Differ from Trainers of Today
Canine training principles of the past are outdated and were developed using research conducted on wolf packs in captivity. However, not only were researchers at the time studying the wrong canine species in order to learn more about domestic dogs, they were conducting their research in an unnatural environment i.e. in an enclosure where no wild animal would act ‘naturally’.
Not only was their research on how wolf packs interact incorrect (as the packs in captivity were unable to express natural behavior), the information gathered should never have been used as a base for understanding – let alone training – domestic dogs of today.
Thousands of dog owners still adhere to the ‘pack rules’ and ‘rank reduction programs’, yet they fail to understand that the research that created these programs was wrong.
Recent studies conducted by well-reputed scientists, animal trainers, and behaviorists have proven the above. It is not hearsay. Leaders in this field like Karen Pryor (Don’t shoot The Dog – 2009) and Jean Donaldson (The Culture Clash – 1996) therefore introduced new ways of training domestic dogs, ways that meet the needs of the domestic dog and the owner at no loss or cost to the dog or owner emotionally, physically or mentally.
‘Pack Rules’ Debunked
Many dog owners are, to this day, led to believe that dogs and humans form a pack when living together. It is not possible for two separate species to form a pack. Packs rules are always species specific; much like a Giraffe would not form a pack with Rhinos.
Trainers of the past stood by (and many still do) a set of rules that force the dog into seeing the dog owner as the Alpha of the pack. Here are some of these rules.
Eat something in front of your dog before feeding him (or her).
Misconception: the Alpha always eats first.
Truth: in the hierarchical structure, breeding Alphas will 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 plenty, so why eat before your dog?
Stand in your dog’s bed.
Misconception: Alphas should be allowed to sleep wherever they want, even if it’s in another’s spot.
Truth: pups huddle 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 are few. 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.
Don’t allow your dog on the furniture.
Misconception: by allowing a dog on the furniture they are elevated to a status equal to Alpha, diminishing the owner’s right as Alpha.
Truth: dogs will sleep wherever it’s comfortable! They don’t choose your bed or couch to appear dominant.
Don’t let your dog lay at the top of the stairs.
Misconception: allowing a dog to sit higher diminishes the owner’s right as Alpha.
Truth: nearly all animals instinctively sit at the highest point possible to keep a lookout.
Don’t let your dog lay in the doorway.
Misconception: lower-ranking wolves should move out the way if they’re obstructing the Alpha’s path. If they don’t it’s because they are trying to elevate their ranking or challenge the Alpha.
Truth: an Alpha would never force a lower-ranking wolf to move out of their way. In a domestic environment it’s likely a dog will choose to sit in doorway because the sun shines there and it’s warm.
Dogs that pull on the lead are dominant.
Misconception: the Alpha leads the way.
Truth: the Alpha does not always lead because of their higher ranking. They may lead in an attempt to choose a suitable direction. However, any wolf may choose to lead at any time.
Put your dog in a down position when they do something wrong.
Misconception: the dog must fear the owner/Alpha when they’ve done something wrong, and must show respect (be submissive) in the owner’s/Alpha’s presence.
Truth: a lower-ranking wolf may show respect to the Alpha by being submissive, which could include rolling onto their back. This is natural Canine behavior that should never be applied to a human/dog relationship. If a dog rolls onto their back in-front of the owner, they are probably scared of the owner (or want a belly-rub). They are not submitting because they think the owner is the Alpha. Why would any dog owner want their dog to be scared of them?
The examples above (there are, of course, more rules) should help you to see that pack rules and rank reduction programs are inappropriate on all levels of a dog/human relationship. They were created with incorrect information and on the wrong species. These programs only serve to damage a dog emotionally, obstructing any positive relationship between dog and owner.
The alternative is to understand that domestic dogs are not ‘like wolves’, and that they do not see us as members of their pack. They see us as their friends. The ‘Sit, stay, do as I say’ approach will never lead to a healthy, happy, relationship between human and dog.
If you’ve made any of these mistakes in the past, it’s not too late to fix it. 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.
Choose only to work with positive reinforcement trainers, as they are firmly against and even intolerant of punishment of any kind. Why use punishment when all dogs are happy to do what’s asked of them… for a tasty tidbit or extra dose of special love!