Blog Post #10, April 4, 2021

Beware of the Wild Side

Are dogs and wolves related? We have always been told this. It does make sense. The answer is yes, of course. Our dogs are related to one of the oldest known four-legged animal called a Wolf. However, how closely are our dogs still related to the wolf tens of thousands of years later?  The fact is, wolves and dogs share all but a third of one per cent of their DNA. Therefore, they are totally related. Remember that!

So, please note all dog owners: your dog is genetically related closely to a wolf. What does this fact mean for you in today’s world? It means pay attention; your dog is a wild animal that has been domesticated to become one of our most beloved possessions and companions. In all ways, this is a significant relationship as expressed in dog to dog relationships and dog to human relationships.

Alexandra Horowitz is a professor of Psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University. She is a PhD studying dog behavior. She is a cognitive scientist who in her book Inside of a Dog seeks to explain a dog’s perceptual and cognitive abilities. She attempts to show the reader what it might be like to be a dog. For a dog owner, it is a must read. I found it to be insightful, helpful and informative.

She writes about the connection between a wolf and a dog and how it pervades the daily lives of our pets and our interaction with them. She makes being a dog owner come alive in terms of this “wild” connection. She tells the reader, “Once in a while it feels as if some renegade ancient gene takes a hold of the domesticated product… our sweet little pet. A dog bites his/her owner, kills the family cat or attacks a neighbor or a neighbor’s dog. Can this be our beloved pet? This unpredictable, wild side of dogs should be acknowledged. The species have been bred for millennia, but has evolved for millions of years before that without us.”

I guess this means BEWARE OF THE WILD SIDE. It is present. It surfaces, in different situations at different times for different reasons. I am not making excuses for unacceptable dog behavior. It just is a part of the species. They are wired to act/react before contemplating action. They have the urge to protect themselves, their families and their territory. And, we cannot predict when they will be prompted to be protective. They do not think like us. As a caring and loving dog owner, It is important to be able to think like them. Pay attention to specific situations; anticipate potential problems or challenges for our dogs, especially in certain situations. You see living with a dog is a long process of becoming mutually familiar. Dog bites are situationally specific. A dog bites out of fear, out of frustration, out of pain and out of anxiety in order protect themselves or their families. A dog can read (feel, smell, and sense) the anxiety and fear of their owner and react accordingly. Dogs are very keen observers. They can sense (smell) fear coming from another dog or their owners. Remember that!

So, if you happen be present when your dog barks or aggressively snaps realize that this alarm is different than just exploratory mouthing or mounting; a play bite is different than a grooming nibble. We cannot read what they are interpreting; it is coming from a totally different part of their brain. Again, remember that because when we sense alarm or no alarm our dogs we may be sensing something completely the opposite. Anticipate and react calmly. If the wolf gene kicks in, intervene safely.

Dr. Horowitz’s research has shown that despite their sometime wildness, dogs never revert to being a wolf. Dogs and humans have bonded. A dog needs and desire the company of its human owner(s). So, dog lovers sit back and enjoy the ride, it is so worth it. However, be responsible; anticipate challenges in your dog’s environment. Be forgiving; be understanding; be present and, most of all BE LOVING. And remember, there is one way we all are alike, both dog and humans, we all make mistakes.

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