So far you have read about a new puppy coming home and preparations required for a proper rearing etc. It is high time to know something more about dogs, for example, what is a dog and how has it endeared itself to man. Doggy picture will remain incomplete if nothing is written about its past. Thus today’s blog is dedicated to the man’s best friend, the tail wager.
Dogs are the oldest domesticated animals. The antiquity of relationship with man is thousands of years old. In the Indian mythology, the incident of Yudhishtir’s dog following him to heaven is well known. Whether the dog adapted to humans or the humans adopted the dog, the fact remains that the dogs have endeared themselves close enough to be called the ‘Mans’ best friend’. Initially the human ancestors brought home a puppy may be on demand of their children or more appropriately for performing certain tasks. Very soon an unwritten unsigned pact was accepted. The dog would perform certain tasks and the master would look after him as a foster parent.
Question is why the dog only started to perform certain tasks, like drafting the sledge, helping man in his hunt for food or guarding property? The answer lies in the genes of the dogs. Recent studies reveal that of nearly 400 breeds of dogs today, each owes its ancestry to five female wolves in East Asia. It was the human ingenuity that modified the ‘wolverine dogs’ to an all-purpose tool, the dog, in a span of past 15,000.
Thus it is vital to understand what a dog is and how it differs from other domesticated animals. Much can be learnt from the behavior of dogs in their natural environment. Before trying to understand what a dog is, it is pertinent to know what a dog was.
It is now believed that the dogs are descendents of wolves. This is based on the study of genetic patterns of hundreds of samples collected by the scientists of Harvard University, Los Angles County Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the University of California, Los Angeles. The wild dog had all the traits of his vile, ferocious and cowardly ancestors. When the man began hunting he needed an animal as an assistant. The assistant was required for his speed to chase, but not to kill and eat the prey himself. Thus by selective breeding man was able to mould the dog in to a helper who would chase the prey yet avoid killing him. The Hounds appeared on the scene. These dogs hunted by sight and could run tirelessly for miles. But the man’s needs were still more. He produced Terriers that would bark and make so much noise that the prey had no option but to come out of the hiding and man could thus hunt them easily.
As the man evolved his needs became greater. He felt the need for an animal that would herd his cows and goats, without preying upon them. A further refinement in the breeding program was developed and the out comes were the herding breeds, commonly known as the Working dogs. Man had started to use a gun for hunting. He needed a dog that would not take off on hearing a gun shot, rather remain quiet and run after the prey and retrieve it. The Gun Dogs were the final product.
Plants or animals, when cultivated, have a tendency to go back to their wild state. Thus serious dog breeders have to keep a watch on what they are doing, lest their product starts displaying wild tendencies. The present day dog is a refined version of its wild ancestor. It has the wild characters ingrained in its instincts along with those acquired through human interference for molding dogs as per his need. Understanding doggy instincts is useful for the dog owners. It gives answer to so many question, ‘why he does like this?’ Dog’s behavior is derived from instinct. The science of study of animal behavior is known as Ethology. Understanding the dog’s Ethology is extremely helpful in developing a better communication with dog.
THE DOGGY INSTINCTS
It is difficult to define instinct in simple terms. It may be regarded, as an inborn, natural impulse, inherent in an animal, not associated with experience, teaching or learning. By means of it an animal may be guided in its response to circumstance, apparently irrespective of reason. Studies carried out by animal psychologists and dog Ethologists have established that the dogs have Hunting and Pack Instincts; Guarding and Fighting Instincts; Submissive Instinct; Sex, Cleanliness and Homing Instincts.
HUNTING AND PACK INSTINCTS:
Dogs are carnivores. In other words, their staple food is animal meat. In the wilderness the only option for all carnivores is to hunt, kill and devour the prey. Most wild dogs hunt in-groups or packs. However, there are exceptions too and sometimes they hunt alone too. It has been found that hunting in packs is more common. The lone hunters perish without leaving an offspring.
Dogs and wolves are close relatives. Wolves hunt in packs. A pack provides security and also powers to kill larger and stronger animals for food. Early man was a nomad. Shifted his dwelling from place to place. His source of food was wild animals. He must have observed packs of dogs hunting. Dogs came near his dwellings too, scavenging for food. It is quite likely that children of our ancestors took a fancy for the chubby pups of those dogs and offered them food. Over a period of time the parents must have found that this animal gives a warning in case of an intrusion by an animal or another human being. Thus began the ever-lasting friendship. Puppies removed from their packs and adopted by the nomadic families soon adapted to the family and became a member of that ‘pack’. Dogs are not the only animals, which have ‘pack instinct’. His master is also an example of the same instinct. The earlier concept of joint families was a pack concept. It provided more breadwinners and better security.
The first domestic dogs were derived from the wild hunters. Through his ingenuity man was able to eliminate the wild instinct of dogs to kill. He was able to tame the dog and tone down the instinct for his utility. The need of the hour was to have an animal that would help him in hunting. The ‘best friend’ had come to stay. Hunting instinct is combined with the pack instinct and the two are deeply ingrained in the present day dog. A dog that is fearless and goes forward to investigate is ideal as a hunter and as an obedient dog too.
Readers might have seen wild dogs, in the Television. They hunt in packs. Chase their prey, tire him out and then pounce. Their yelps and barks beat the hell out of the prey. One after another they take a bite at the prey, till the creature is fatigued and has no resistance left. The pack instinct gives them security from other animals.
The pack or the family lives in lairs. They bring their kill to the lair and devour it there. The unfinished food is buried in the ground to rot and eaten at leisure later. A newborn litter becomes a pack for the dam. The puppies grow under her leadership and a sense of discipline is inculcated on to them all the time. The dam communicates through her grunts and growls and keeps them under control. A 25 days old puppy crawls away from the littermates and attempts to locate his missing family sniffing desperately. A gentle growl from the dam gives him the location and he retraces his steps. In case a puppy tries to break the discipline he is snubbed with a deep growl. A two month’s old pup may even face his dam baring her fangs at him in anger. However, the annoyance is only during the period when the puppy breaks the rule. The moment he behaves normal, the dam gives him a lick on the face. Derived from wild, the pack instinct continues to dominate the dogs.
Instincts vary within the dogs of the same pack or even within a litter. Some puppies may have more pronounced hunting instincts. It is this variation in instincts that helps breeders in developing the desired qualities. Puppies start showing the instinct from the moment they are able to run. They chase each other, chase flies, chase rolling objects etc. The game hunters like Greyhound, start playing chasing games from the age of three months. Corgis meant to herd cows, start playing the 'herding game as puppies. It is difficult to establish how pronounced is a particular instinct in a dog. Yet hunting instinct is always there. That is why an apparently calm Labrador Retriever decides to chase the bicycle riding Postman, or a child playing hide and seek with his friends. Puppies derive great pleasure in chasing moving objects and at times it becomes an obsession even as an adult.
Stalking is another version of chasing a prey. A dog learns it without any previous training. Like a young man ‘stalking’ a pretty girl and chasing her up to her home, the dog does almost the same, of course for different reasons. The only difference is that the young man if caught gets a reprimand, where as a dog chasing a kid may have to loose its life. The elders correct the young man by teaching him better sense. Yet very few try to correct their dogs gone astray.
A puppy separated from his littermates goes to a new home. Though he does miss his dam and mates, but very soon identifies the new family as his pack. He uses his own criteria to identify the pack leader in the new family. His acumen needs all praise, because his selection never goes wrong. Some times the puppy has all qualities of a leader and is a bully too. He tries to boss over the scene and tries to take over as the leader. Such puppies are problem for the novice dog lover, but in the hands of an experienced person they are an asset.
Urination is a peculiar trait connected with Pack Instinct. An adult male urinates in small quantities on all the electric poles. He never empties his bladder, always retains some amount for ‘unforeseen circumstances’. Urination is a sort of aggression. They keep on testing the opponent or their territory by urinating there. In case the opponent is weak, he would flee. Similarly, dogs try to roll on filth or excreta of other animals or birds. My Miniature pincher has developed an expertise of killing the wild pigeons as they come flocking to my roof. She rolls on their excreta perhaps to acquire their odor and to be one of them! Human beings also use fragrances and deodorants to acquire better smell. Customs may vary but the reasons are similar.
The hunting and pack instincts manifest in dogs in several ways. As soon as the puppies are able to run about, they start playing the game of catch me if you can. One of them becomes the ‘prey’, while others chase him. In the process they learn the nuances of attack and escape. The new puppy in the house also loves to play the same game. Runs away from the master, turns back to check if he is being chased or not and runs farther if the master is in pursuit. Yet another manifestation of the instinct is the bolt complex. The puppy remains most obedient, responds to commands and one fine morning realizes that he can out run the master. During a walk or a training session he takes off, the moment the leash is taken off. It is quite a common sight. The master chases the dog, shouting and calling him back. That is what the dog wants. He has created a situation for games of catch me if you can. However, it can be reversed if the master decides to run away from the dog. The game remains the same only the prey changes. Soon he comes close enough to be caught and leashed.
The street dogs have well defined packs and territories. The pack leader is strongest amongst them. Intruder, be it a dog, another animal or sometimes a human being is not tolerated. The pack barks and chases the intruder till he is away from their territory. Dogs in the family tend to develop this type of character if the master is weak. In that eventuality, one of them wants to take over the command of the pack. Such situation should never be allowed to happen. The human master or the pack leader has different values and method of disciplining. Dog as a pack leader would like to introduce the animal system of discipline, which follows the dictum ‘obey or perish’.
My instinct tells me that reading about doggy instincts has become too much for the reader. Therefore I will write about some more instincts in the next blog.