The Human Beast

Why we do what we do

Why dogs are so different from wolves

A PBS documentary highlighted some of the remarkable differences between wolves and domesticated dogs (Nova: Dogs Decoded, video). The Nova segment is a remarkable distillation of recent evidence about how humans have altered dogs through artificial selection, and been altered ourselves in the process. Read More

Traslation: dogs arent'

Traslation: dogs arent' Aspies! :P

Need more info

An interesting insight into the evolutionary development of dogs, but a little bit too brief for my taste ...

What sorts of unique psychological features did the certain groups of dogs (i.e. herding dogs, working dogs, terriers, bull-baiters, hounds, etc.) develop? What specific sets of personality/temperament traits differentiates one sub-group from the others?

I've also got a breed-related question tied to the statement of wolves being statistically more aggressive and self-serving when compared to dogs: what about the Pitbulls and related breeds (American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bullterrier, etc.)? If we cut through the ignorance (dumbed-down media and generalized anti-breed policies on one side versus overly emotional owners who feel misunderstood on the other side), than I need to raise the question: what is going on in the minds of those pitbull-type dogs? Those breeds were bred for aggression only some 10 to 30 generations ago (with some breeders still breeding them towards illegal pitfights nowadays), and they can still turn on their owners or some other unfortunate victims - snap in an unexpected attack not preceded by warning growls, cause severe injuries in persistent attacks (the bull-baiting background), etc.

In short, I'd really like to read up more about "psychological differences in dog sub-groups" and "pitbull psychology", if there ever are such things - unbiased, objective. A strange request indeed, though I'd really appreciate a reply (even a link to a study) from the author or a fellow reader.

compares wolf-dog behaviour.

I would bet 1000 dollars if you give a person a wolf puppy and tell them it is a dog or a wolf hybrid they will NOT figure it out.

DNA testers have claimed that they can establish whether a sample came from a dog or wolf or hybrid but I have my doubts,what about coyote hybrids, dingo hybrids etc.

what about the idea that black wolves were originally wolf/dog hybrids. once a hybrid always a hybrid ???

I just personally do not believe that anyone could tell the difference if the wolves are hand raised and treated like pet dogs

"I just personally do not

"I just personally do not believe that anyone could tell the difference if the wolves are hand raised and treated like pet dogs"

Then you should watch the documentary the article mentions. They conducted this very experiment by having people raise puppies with constant attention until adulthood and then do the same with wolf cubs. As the wolves aged, they became more aggressive and less interested in humans. They grew up to behave like the animals they were despite the fact that they were raised like dogs. The difference is obvious.

Wolf vs dog behaviour

It's interesting to read such a wide sprectrum of views on this subject; wolf and dog behaviour. Genetically, they are as identical as one animal can be of another, that is a fact, of course. But the pedomorphism we have inflicted on the species, while having the initial effect of providing dogs with juvenile characteristics into maturity, has also brought us into a certain uneasy acceptance of selfish inbreeding. The recent documentary exposing the kennel club for their focus on inbreeding at all costs to our closest animal friend demonstrated the ease by which we have let this happen in modern society.
The original bent on choosing the wolves best suited to live with us; fluffy ears, short snout and playful natures, has been achieved, but at what cost?
Notwithstanding the moral questions of inbreeding dogs to be 'aggressive' for nothing more than our sport, it does present the question as to whether that trait is bred from the dog characteristic the original wolf. Having consumed the reading materiel from Mr Shaun Ellis (the man who lives with wolves) as a piece of unique behaviour study on the modern wolf, I would have to side with the view that wolves are the less aggressive in nature. Pardon the pun. In the wild, the last resort of any wolf is to fight with another beast that it cannot easily dispatch, and that includes other wolves. It will do pretty much anything to avoid a physical contact that might cause injury. There is no 'vets for u' close by to tend his wounds and feed his offspring if things dont go his way. What onlookers might be confused by in terms of constituting 'aggressive bahaviour' is the terms of their close proximity communication. They bare teeth, growl and charge when comfronted. As a form of close proximity communication with those around them it is very effective and protects them from full on physical contact. It is effective. However, their main response to confrontation is avoidance. Its the default, safe and automatic option for a wild wolf. In fact, most would consider the natural wild wolves as remarkably timid in comparison to the dogs they have known in their lives. The avoidance behaviour making them prefer to hide and skulk when faced with any physical confrontation. This is not to say that they dont chase down and kill other animals for food. Of course, they do. But, to be clear, this is not aggressive behaviour, this is done with the clarity of mind, the planning and the calmness otherwise associated with any critical life saving activity we, as humans, may have to carry out from time to time. Saving a youngster in the pool, running across a motorway or getting your family out when the amoke alarm goes off. It is not aggressive behaviour but life critical action.
For me I have a tiny behaviour study going on in my own home. I have a primitive breed as a pet (a german shepherd) and a border collie. It has been very interesting to compare their behaviours in light of what Shaun has uncovered by his studies. The german shepherd is more wolf like than the border collie in everything. She is more timid, she howls and voices, she is very pack conscious, she is a sentinel and she continually asks for pack reinforcement to be happy. However her true aggressivness is much less than the collie. Its obvious to me now why that is. The collie has been bred to chase and nip for no reason other than that is what we want him to do. The shepherd has not had enough bredding time (a very young breed in evolutionary terms than the collie)to 'naturally' want to use overt aggression. She would just much rather avoid it. When confronted though, she fronts a good game! The collie follows through on any front he plays, the shepherd has never yet;, always prefering to look for pack assistance to disolve the situation, if the stand and stare / show teeth doesnt do the trick. (comes and hides under your legs) Classic wolf behaviour.
I am sure the pit bull question will carry on for some time. For me, its clear that that type of unreasonable, dangerous (for the dog) overt attacking aggression just hasnt come from the wolf behaviour closet. Embarrassing as it may be, I think 'We did that'.


Canines are intriguing

Canines--Dogs--are very intriguing creatures. I have done researched on why dogs lick feet and was astounded to come across the fact and realization that they can and do detect our feelings, emotions and mood by the doing the aforementioned. We have a lot of nerve endings at our foot and dogs are able to detect how stressed or jovial we've been in the past days solely by licking our feet.

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Nigel Barber, Ph.D., is an evolutionary psychologist as well as the author of Why Parents Matter and The Science of Romance, among other books.


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