A tale of chimps, humans, dogs, wolves, and science (or claims thereof)

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A tale of chimps, humans, dogs, wolves, and science (or claims thereof)

This is a discussion on A tale of chimps, humans, dogs, wolves, and science (or claims thereof) within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; The topic of pack behavior and dominance (or alpha) dynamics being debunked comes up often, and I'd like to take the time to assess the ...

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Old 10-06-2016, 10:23 AM
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A tale of chimps, humans, dogs, wolves, and science (or claims thereof)

The topic of pack behavior and dominance (or alpha) dynamics being debunked comes up often, and I'd like to take the time to assess the viability of some of the "debunking" claims I keep running across.

First, there's this:
Quote:
Even though dogs and wolves are genetically similar, they are separated by at least fifteen thousand years of domestication that has changed them in many important ways. Today’s domestic dog is approximately as genetically similar to the wolf as we humans are to chimpanzees
ref. link

Let's see... where to start?
1) Are the genetic differences between humans and chimps of the same order of magnitude as those between wolves and dogs? Well, chimps and humans have 96% of their DNA in common (ref link), while dogs and wolves share 98.8% (ref link). Close enough, right? Well, 2.8% may seem insignificant, but it does make the above claim mathematically false. Genetically speaking, 2.8% is quite a canyon to bridge (most DNA is "junk" DNA, and hence quantity doesn't tell the whole story). Which leads us to...

2) Dogs and wolves aren't just genetically similar, they are the same species (Canis)! Dogs and wolves can inter-breed, and so can their offspring (one of the tests for species is multi-generational breeding). Can we say the same about chimps and humans? Oops! Nope.

3) As for the 15K years (~40K in some estimates), why not note the evolutionary time distance between chimps and humans? Oh, yeah, because it is several orders of magnitude greater, perhaps? 13 million years, in case you care to count.

4) Not only can dogs and wolves interbreed, but several dog breeds have been generated by bringing wolves into the blood line. That 15K years just got significantly shorter.

5) Finally, do anthropologists study chimps and other primates to understand human behavior? All the time! (ref link) In particular, check out studies of Bonobos (ref link), who are closer genetically to us (98.7% -- ring a bell?).

Associated with this claim are comments about studies of wolf pack behavior in captivity being irrelevant given that wolves interact differently in the wild. Well, that would pass the giggle test if domesticated dogs also lived in the wild, but alas, by definition, they do not! (See my follow-up post on this thread for more on this.)

All of which goes to say, when debunking something scientifically, it helps immensely to get the science straight.

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Old 10-06-2016, 10:24 AM
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To further address the issue of dominance debunking, let us now review verbatim David Mech's alleged recantation of the "alpha" concept. While the beginning of thisvideo seems to support the claim that David Mech changed his mind (with much regret!), please do not miss what he says at the 1:35 minute mark.
And I quote:

"It's appropriate to use the term 'alpha' in an artificial pack where you might put many wolves from different assemblages together,... then they would form a pecking order or a dominance hierarchy, and you could call the top animal at that point the 'alpha.' But that happens rarely in the wild, if ever." (emphasis mine)

Then, he goes on to note special cases in the wild where dominance can and has developed. Again, there, you have the 'assemblages' effect he mentions at work.

Now, let's listen for comprehension to what he actually said, and let's think about what happens in a home where you have two or more dogs:

1) First, your home is not the wild!!! Your pooch is not ranging free in the middle of Yosemite or Yellowstone.
2) Second, the dogs, as benign as we may make it, are living in captivity.
3) Third, unless you bred all the dogs from a single male/female pair, BINGO, most of us have exactly the sort of "assemblages" Dr. Mech refers to.

Now, will someone with a straight face and a modicum of logical wherewithal please explain how this debunks anything? Or can we use, if nothing else, common sense to admit that, yes, at least when it comes to multiple dogs in a home we could face dominance issues among them?

Note: this is not to say that dominance is useful in human-dog interaction, or as a manner of training. I am not advocating that. However, I am concerned when many of our discussions about the validity of dominance discount it as a reality among some dogs, in some circumstances. That strikes me as unnecessarily tossing away valuable insight.

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Old 10-06-2016, 10:39 AM
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One final point requires addressing, whether the process of domestication itself, and the selective breeding that goes with it has fundamentally changed a dog's nature so that it differs substantially in behavior and innate drive from a wolf. This on its face seems a valid point, as one might argue that the breeding-selection process was meant (in part) to make dogs less wolf-like (less aggressive, more compliant). Wouldn't that make them less dominant (or aggressive, or whatever) than wolves?

A recent study reveals a surprising and opposite finding. Wolves, left to themselves are more cooperative, more independent than dogs. I'll let the following summary statement from the linked article expand on the point:
Quote:
For dog lovers, comparative psychologists Friederike Range and Zsófia Virányi have an unsettling conclusion. Many researchers think that as humans domesticated wolves, they selected for a cooperative nature, resulting in animals keen to pitch in on tasks with humans. But when the two scientists at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna studied lab-raised dog and wolf packs, they found that wolves were the tolerant, cooperative ones. The dogs, in contrast, formed strict, linear dominance hierarchies that demand obedience from subordinates, Range explained last week at the Animal Behavior Society meeting at Princeton University. As wolves became dogs, she thinks, they were bred for the ability to follow orders and to be dependent on human masters.
For the sake of completeness, here's another study that yields an opposite conclusion in studies of feral dog packs:
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Of course wolves are not dogs, so let's look at a recent (2010) piece of research by Roberto Bonanni of the University of Parma and his associates. They looked at free-ranging packs of dogs in Italy and found that leadership was a very fluid thing. For example, in one pack, which had 27 members, there were 6 dogs that habitually took turns leading the pack, but at least half of the adult dogs were leaders, at least some of the time. The dogs that were usually found leading the pack tended to be the older, more experienced dogs, but not necessarily the most dominant. The pack seems to allow leadership to dogs, who at particular times seem to be most likely to contribute to the welfare of the pack through knowledge that can access the resources they require.
Note that since this second study examined feral dogs, in the wild, so to speak, the applicability of that environmental context to a pack of dogs in a home/confined setting is open to further questioning. The first study was performed in the lab (in captivity). While that setting may not exactly match our homes, it comes closer than free-range living.

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Old 10-06-2016, 02:46 PM
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Regardless of wolf and dog power dynamics amongst one another, I think the most relevant thing "debunking" addresses is that an animal's status has little bearing on its basic manners and obedience skills. Some of the rudest dogs I've trained are also the most submissive. Your dog doesn't pee on your shoes to assert dominance... he does it because you haven't properly trained him where to pee!

Further we have to ask the question of whether dogs view and treat us as fellow dogs. We are two species learning a second language. While dogs only really know how to express themselves to us in their own language, they have a highly-developed (very possibly through evolution) sense of our (body) language. They can easily read our expressions and formulate a response.

In the end, I do realize that all group animals have a social structure--- either an extremely rigid linear pecking order or a looser, more variable dynamic. To anyone who thinks that wolf social behavior is analogous to dog behavior, I would ask them how they think a wolf would fare in a dog park... or a dog in a wolf enclosure!

I figure that either way, for as long as clicker training and force-free training is the preferred method for training wolves as well as dogs, though, that there shouldn't be too much to debate about when it comes for methods of training canines.
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Old 10-06-2016, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by kelly528 View Post
Regardless of wolf and dog power dynamics amongst one another, I think the most relevant thing "debunking" addresses is that an animal's status has little bearing on its basic manners and obedience skills. Some of the rudest dogs I've trained are also the most submissive. Your dog doesn't pee on your shoes to assert dominance... he does it because you haven't properly trained him where to pee!
Well, we can always prove anything (even the ridiculous) by appealing to the ridiculous. Are we to assume that peeing encompasses the whole of canine ill behavior that may or may not arise from dominance dynamics? Or are we to marvel at the coincidence that your response does not mention violent and aggressive behavior?

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Further we have to ask the question of whether dogs view and treat us as fellow dogs. We are two species learning a second language. While dogs only really know how to express themselves to us in their own language, they have a highly-developed (very possibly through evolution) sense of our (body) language. They can easily read our expressions and formulate a response.
As I stated in my OP and follow-ups, this is not the point of this thread. Dog-to-dog dynamics only, so shifting the argument does not address the points I made.

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In the end, I do realize that all group animals have a social structure--- either an extremely rigid linear pecking order or a looser, more variable dynamic. To anyone who thinks that wolf social behavior is analogous to dog behavior, I would ask them how they think a wolf would fare in a dog park... or a dog in a wolf enclosure!
And there is the appeal to the ridiculous again. How does this observation change or negate the stipulation you make in the first sentence of the above paragraph? If there's a pecking order, how does wolf behavior in a dog park change that? I could play along and assert that the wolf will be alpha, hands down, and then what?

Quote:
I figure that either way, for as long as clicker training and force-free training is the preferred method for training wolves as well as dogs, though, that there shouldn't be too much to debate about when it comes for methods of training canines.
Again, shifting the argument. The OP was not about recommending or advocating dominance over dogs (by humans) as a training approach. We should not, however, be so quick to dismiss dominance altogether (and talk it away by shoe-horning it into convenient alternatives like resource guarding, or anxiety, which are often applicable, but not comprehensive explanations) and so miss out on the full picture of insight into canine behavior for settings where we have multiple dogs living under a single roof.

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Old 10-06-2016, 04:21 PM
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Well, we can always prove anything (even the ridiculous) by appealing to the ridiculous. Are we to assume that peeing encompasses the whole of canine ill behavior that may or may not arise from dominance dynamics? Or are we to marvel at the coincidence that your response does not mention violent and aggressive behavior?
Jeez. This person was trying to contribute to the thread, and didn't realize you were waiting to pounce. I think you should be left alone to talk to yourself.
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Old 10-06-2016, 04:29 PM
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Jeez. This person was trying to contribute to the thread, and didn't realize you were waiting to pounce. I think you should be left alone to talk to yourself.
We are having a discussion here on the merits of what I posted and responses to it. If you have facts, data, and logical argumentation to offer, please feel free to contribute. I'm not understanding how your response assists us in that regard, so we will leave it there...
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Old 10-06-2016, 08:15 PM
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facts, data, and logical argumentation
You did not use these qualities. You jumped on and mocked the first poster who came along.
If you want a reasonable, civil discussion, try being civil yourself.
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Old 10-06-2016, 09:49 PM
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Well, we can always prove anything (even the ridiculous) by appealing to the ridiculous. Are we to assume that peeing encompasses the whole of canine ill behavior that may or may not arise from dominance dynamics? Or are we to marvel at the coincidence that your response does not mention violent and aggressive behavior?

As I stated in my OP and follow-ups, this is not the point of this thread. Dog-to-dog dynamics only, so shifting the argument does not address the points I made.

And there is the appeal to the ridiculous again. How does this observation change or negate the stipulation you make in the first sentence of the above paragraph? If there's a pecking order, how does wolf behavior in a dog park change that? I could play along and assert that the wolf will be alpha, hands down, and then what?

Again, shifting the argument. The OP was not about recommending or advocating dominance over dogs (by humans) as a training approach. We should not, however, be so quick to dismiss dominance altogether (and talk it away by shoe-horning it into convenient alternatives like resource guarding, or anxiety, which are often applicable, but not comprehensive explanations) and so miss out on the full picture of insight into canine behavior for settings where we have multiple dogs living under a single roof.
The ridiculous, as far as assumptions about dog behavior, comes from assuming that a creature that depends on us for food, water, shelter, and as a main social connection can by it's will dominate us in any way

If you want to talk dominance, look up the ethological definition. 'Dominance' is defined as the being who, at a given time, is in control of a resource. If I don't want to give my dog a resource, I don't have to-- point blank. I can choose not to feed him, not to provide him with water, to leave him in the backyard, to ignore him. It is because we are in control of these resources that dogs will often resort to non-confrontational means of getting them: begging, learning behaviors like tricks and bad habits, and trying to sneak them without our knowledge. Until dogs develop more advanced cognition and opposable thumbs, we will be the at the top of the pack.

Now, if you want to talk about violent and aggressive behavior, I can link you to many, many studies asserting that this is the product of fear rather than a matter of dominance or submission. From my learning and personal experiences with dogs in professional walking, training, boarding and in daycare, this tends to be the case 99% if not 100% of the time. As social creatures, dogs have few reasons, other than an immediate (real or percieved) threat to their safety, to confront those that it can get along with. Confrontation is inefficient. All you need is another creature to call your bluff and you get a fight. Where you get a fight you get a waste of energy, injury, infection and or death-- whether you come out on the top or the bottom. This is probably why measures taken to reduce fear and anxiety in dogs (counterconditioning, desensitization, even supplements and medication) are so efficient at countering aggressive behavior.

I mean... I see what you are driving at with your argument about artificial packs but you are missing (or sidestepping) the entire other end of the argument Mech puts forth about stress in captivity and scarcity of resources. Specifically:

(1) The wolves in Schenkel's pack were stressed. They were probably about as stressed as wolves can be. They were not allowed to exhibit natural behaviour, provided with little mental stimulation, their basic social needs (either a nuclear family or a mate) were not met, their nutritional needs probably weren't met either... That's like trying to judge human behavior based on behavior of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. It simply isn't an accurate snapshot of normative human behavior.

(2) There were things to compete over: Food, water, hiding places, mates... This competition rarely exists among housepets that aren't victims of serious neglect. If you kept any animal the way animals were kept in a mid-century zoo, animal control would probably hunt you down.

Another thing to consider is that genetic similarity =/= morphological or behavioral similarity. We have so many common genes with pigs that we can take their organs as transplants and even catch flus from them. Lions can also hybridize with tigers, but one is a social, matriarchal animal and the other a solitary, male-dominates species. See where I'm going with this?

Unlike the gray wolf, which has an extremely short socialization window for developing interspecies friendships (I believe that they must be exposed to an animal for 24 hours straight, and while they are under 4 weeks of age), dog possess a unique ability to relate to creatures that are unlike them. They also respond to different cues in training, and speak different "languages" (and this is why wolves often can not be kept alongside dogs: dogs don't know how to not offend them and will cause fights without meaning to). No "alpha", no dominance, just vet bills all around. Finally, they respond to humans differently. Wolves will dig their way out of pretty much any crate you put them in, no matter how young you start them. They will claw through drywall if confined. They respond less to human voice. And so forth.

So, simply from the standpoint on the data we have on the behavior of each species (social developlment, body language, instinctual behaviors, etcetera), they are different. Plain and simple. Perhaps it's best then, when we are interacting with them, to treat dogs as dogs and wolves as wolves.

In conclusion, yeah, it's important to get the science straight, but you can't forget that the science gets straighter and straighter every day. New sides will keep developing to both arguments. I respect research and academic knowledge, but applying it to my empirical experiences and evaluating it that way always serves me best. Especially when observing an artificial pack of 15-25 dogs from day to day.
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Old 10-06-2016, 11:04 PM
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The ridiculous, as far as assumptions about dog behavior, comes from assuming that a creature that depends on us for food, water, shelter, and as a main social connection can by it's will dominate us in any way
Of course they can't dominate us, humans are the top of the food chain and even without tools or weapons, most humans are more than a match for a dog in combat.

More importantly though, they don't want to dominate us. they're genetically programmed to be submissive to us . I think the best argument for the "alpha" training theory is that dogs suffer when we don't dominate them. Or to use a less politically charged word, when we don't lead them. Dogs expect to submit to us. Their relationship with humans is what makes them different from wolves and its been bred into their genes. No dog thinks they're the alpha of a pack that includes you but I contend that some suffer from that lack of an 'alpha' if you don't assume that role.
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