My dog's nature!
When looking at a dog one tends to see a pet. In reality, despite being a domesticated animal, the dog remains by nature an animal; and through its heritage a wolf.
The cute little puppy seen playing is really a domesticated wolf learning rules, tactics and behavior; and establishes its place in the pack's hierarchy. It follows instincts and inherited behaviors. And while they may differ between breeds, especially in mixed breeds, the basic pattern is the same.
When humans started to breed what became the different breeds of dogs, they chose certain characteristics and attempted to enforce them:
- All wolves were born hunters, but the goal was to breed a dog that would become 'perfect' for hunting. It had to be able to see/smell it's pray from long distances and willing to follow it despite challenges.
- Wolfs are naturally born with amazing stamina, but a sled dog such as the Husky or Malamute should be able to run for long distances; without allowing it to get distracted by following its natural instinct such as hunting. A animal was wanted that could travel long distances, but was willing to serve its owner.
- A wolf will see practically any animal as prey and treat it as such; but in order to protect the flock, a dog such as a Border Collie or Anatolian Shepherd needed to overcome the instinct to hunt and rather feel a great sense of protectiveness towards what would have been otherwise its prey.
- In the questionable 'sport' of dog fighting, when hunting large animals or using dogs as protection, humans sought a aggressive, fearless, agile and muscular creature. While a wolf may use force to establish rules and rank structure, it rarely does so unprovoked or without reason; or to attack a creature who will likely cause it harm beyond the expected dangers of a hunt for food. The wolf's survival depends on its health and ability to continue the hunt for food for both its pack and its own survival. But fighters, dogs used to hunt large animals, or were used for protection had to do so without holding back.
- Wolfs are large animals, capable of successfully hunting deer and elk. To create a 'tool' to control the rodent and snake population, or hunt small but fierce predators such as Badgers, Raccoons and Possums, humans needed to breed a smaller version of the mighty wolf that regained the self-confident and somewhat forceful nature. The 'dog' had to be able to fit into the small holes left by the targeted critter, but despite their small statue show no fear of the often equally fearless creatures they encountered.
Other criteria for selective breeding mainly geared towards a certain look or the gentle and patient demeanor of a personal companion. Evolving from hunters and gatherers to what humans are now, the dogs they chose evolved from needing special skills to ensure their owners survival, to companions, different types of service dogs and athletes in different sports. Today hunting has become a sport rather than a necessity; motorized vehicles have replaced most of the herding dogs or those used for transportation; security systems make watch-dogs almost unnecessary. Today's dog is viewed mainly as 'Men's Best Friend'.
But while the purpose of 'Men's Best Friend' may have changed, its canine nature didn't! A dog should never be viewed as a pet, similar to a toy or belonging. Some breeds show stronger tendencies towards forcefulness than others, but in reality they are deep down descendants of the wolf.
In addition one should also take in consideration what the dog was originally meant to do. Choosing the right companion will ensure a long, happy life for both parties involved.
- As the name states, the different Retrievers were originally bred to be part of the hunting and food gathering process. Other dogs like Hounds, Spaniels, Jack Russell type Terriers and such also have the bred-in instincts to hunt, subdue and/or kill 'prey'. When choosing such a breed one should consider that it may or may not work well with cats and other small animals.
- Dogs that were bred to herd their human's flock are often self-sufficient, very protective of their herd, high energy and sometimes territorial. They may require a more experienced person able to train them properly and control their instincts. They may also consider their human pack their flock and instinctively protect it against outsiders and 'predators'.
- A lot of Bully breeds were originally bred to catch hogs and cattle ('Bull(ie)s'), to drive and hunt livestock. They had to be fearless enough to engage animals that outsize them by often hundreds of pounds or, like some hogs, may meet their fearlessness in kind. They are natural athletes, strong-willed and self-confident (short of saying: Stubborn!) and can be a bit forceful. It takes an equally strong-willed person to 'out-rank' a Bully and ensure that its need for exercise (both physically and mentally) and training is met.
- The German Shepherd was bred as a Police Dog. There are other breeds that were bred for similar 'duties' or as watch dogs. Its natural protective nature is used in Military-, Police- and Security work, besides many other 'jobs' and 'sports'. While they can make fantastic family pets, their protective nature should not be forgotten.
Working dogs in general are usually more energetic and require more exercise than breeds mainly bred as companions. They are also often very intelligent or meant to be able to act with a certain independents; making training an even more important aspect of owning one. Having been bred to work at high energy-levels and for long periods of time, such dogs often don't do well in apartments or without proper exercise, stimulation and distracting.
To automatically assume that a breed has certain characteristics would mean to treat a dog like an object. Dogs are living creatures and have their own character. And the upbringing plays a major role in how a dog will turn out; especially when it is a dog mixed of several breeds, and as such, has inherited their characteristics.
A well socialized and trained Pit-bull can make a great family member. Being a pack animal they are social by nature, energetic enough to attend to even a large family’s needs and loyal by default; willing to protect his/her pack without limits. Pit-bulls can perform as well as any other breed in 'jobs' such as service dogs working in hospitals!
The same Pit-bull can become a creature to be handled with care, if subjected to the ‘wrong’ type of human influence or lack of influence. In addition individuals with questionable motives may select dogs for breeding that show a stronger tendency towards aggression than others. But in this case the ‘bad blood’ should not be blamed on the dog, but on the individual misusing its powers for often illegal purposes. One should strongly consider that dogs, like any other creature, are products of their environment; and are too often victim of it!
A good ‘owner’ is able to bring out the best in any breed. But when lacking the necessary influences such as socialization, training and affection, any breed can become a problem.
While a Chihuahua doesn't seem to present much of a treat, it was often born with what is sometimes jokingly referred to as ‘Napoleon Complex”. This small dog has no idea that it is roughly 10lbs and tiny, but was meant to fiercely attack the rodents its original breeder found undesirable for their lodgings. They are also often a ‘one man’s dog’ and have to be properly socialized from young age on. While being small in size can make it rather be considered as a nuisance than a threat, the possible issues can turn it into problem and render it homeless, thus dead.
A Jack Russell Terrier is of similar mind-set. Born small and as a fierce hunter, it is also highly intelligent, stubborn, energetic and easily under-tasked. It requires a person able to meet its qualities head-on and match them in kind. Properly trained this dog is a magician at learning tricks, but lack of training can bring the worst out of such intelligent creature.
Dogs are amazing creatures! They succeed in sports such as fly-ball, agility, Frisbee and a variety of others. They are loyal soldiers and police officers, serve faithfully and dependable as seeing eye dogs and by detecting diseases, find lost and injured as Search & Rescue specialists, protect their families to the end. When treated well and trained properly, they can understand their place in our pack and succeed as a valued member of our family; their success only limited by our teachings. Acknowledging the fact that we are encountering a domesticated animal and respecting its nature will allow us to understand how to live with and appreciate them.
My sincere appreciation and Thank You goes to Gerd Dörfler from the Verein der Hundefreunde von Fulda und Umgebung, e.V.. His advise to read a book about wolves if I was to understand the thought-process of my ...creative Husky mix Cora has led me to live a much happier life with all that followed Cora into my heart, family and home.
I am happy to see that he still skillfully leads the 'Ausbildung & Obedience" and I hope he will be able to many more years to come!