Posts Tagged ‘dog behavior’


If dogs are pretending to love us, then they are damn good actors.


I have some issues with Masson’s work. I would have loved it if he’d included a description a dog preying on some animal in Dogs Never Lie About Love.

He covers every part of their natural behavior but that one. If you see a dog acting as a predator, it can be a moving experience. It can also be terrifying if you’ve deluded yourself into believing that they don’t have these instincts. For someone like Masson, I think he would find it rather disconcerting.

He’s also one of those animal rights people who talks about these issues in a way that reminds me of how the Christian right talks about abortion.

The fact that he’s on the left makes no difference. It puts me off.

I think a better discussion of the issues can be found here.

That said, I do believe most birds and mammals do have emotions and can experience pain and suffering.  And all of them will experience a certain level of suffering at they live their lives.

Most wild animals die horrific deaths. A hunter’s bullet causes far less suffering than the other “natural” ways these animals die.

We have to accept that this world is partially maintained through death. Despite our intellect, man has not created a world that transcends the simple realities that all things die and in most deaths, there will be some pain and suffering.

We can either deny these realities, or we can work to mitigate them.

And that’s where our focus should be.


Why is it that dogs are able to form bonds with species other than humans?

It has more to do with agriculture than the fact that dogs just like making friends.

When we domesticated other species, we culled those dogs that tried to eat our sheep and goats.

Those dogs that formed bonds with our sheep and goats and protected them  from predators were given special treatment.

Charles Darwin noticed that most Western dogs learned very quickly to leave domesticated stock alone, while dogs from South Pacific and Australia could never be trusted around sheep. Darwin, like Masson, believed that it was the love of man that caused Western domestic dogs to leave stock alone.

I think it’s more likely the result of this early selective breeding.

Of course, Western dogs are not universally safe with stock, but I have known some fierce hunting dogs that learned to leave pet ducks alone.

When I was growing up, a predatory Norwegian elkhound and even more predatory farm collie learned to never touch my pet Muscovy ducks.  The elkhound did kill one duck because it was eating out of dog’s food bowl. The elkhound wanted to discipline the duck for breaking pack rules, and the duck didn’t survive the punishment.

I also know of Walker coonhounds that can kill a raccoon in less than a minute but think the world of their owner’s cats.

Somewhere in domesticating the dog, the animal has evolved an ability to recognize which animals are prey and which animals it should befriend. For a predatory animal, that is quite an accomplishment.

I think some study is needed on this aspect of dog behavior.  Maybe this will fit in nicely with the theory that dogs are very good at following rules. Rule following in dogs is being extensively studied in Hungary at Eotvos Lorand University’s Department of Ethology.

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Willie and the squirrels

Willie and his squirrels.

Willie is a young Jack Russell from Fayetteville, North Carolina, who recently spent a weekend at my grandpa’s house in very rural West Virginia. Willie lives with my aunt and uncle, and he’s very smart. He is dead serious about retrieving things, which is more than I can say about Miley.

Like many of his breed, he is likes to chase small furry things.  At home, Willie and Madeleine, the other Jack Russell who lives at that household, can be launched with the mere mention of the word squirrel.  They take squirrel hunting very seriously. It is as if it is their main duty to keep the bushy-tailed rats off the lawn.

However, they are contained in a fenced yard, allowing the squirrels  an easy escape from the jaws of these small brown and white wolves. In all the years they have been chasing squirrels in North Carolina, they have caught only one squirrel.  (Of course, dogs have a hard time catching squirrels, whether they are fenced in or not.)

As I have mentioned earlier, West Virginia’s trees have not produced enough mast this year to feed the large numbers of squirrels, turkeys, and white-tailed deer.

My grandpa has taken pity upon the squirrels, in part because he actually wants to keep their numbers high for next year.  He hunts squirrels, and he knows that if they squirrels go into winter without a bounty of nuts from the fall, there will be fewer squirrels next year.

So he has set up a massive squirrel feeding operation. One of his feeders is on the deck in full view of his sliding glass door.  Here, the vast hordes of  fox squirrels and normal and melanistic grays fight over the corn in the feeder all day long. It is quite entertaining to watch.

And when Willie and Maddy were at his house a few weekends ago, they very much agreed. They would stand by the sliding glass door like wolves staring down a herd of caribou. Maddy would quiver all the way down to the tip of her docked tail, and Willie would stand like a pointer with one foot raised. When the sliding glass door was opened the first time, Maddy ran right off the deck after the squirrels, and Willy chased them out of the yard and across the old pasture into the woods.  This was Jack Russell heaven.

Getting to watch and chase so many squirrels really had an effect on Willie.

When they returned home, Willie went to his toy box and took out three of his stuffed toys.

Now, Willie has a collection of toys.  He has more stuffed toys than many children do. He had a wide selection to choose from.

So it was very interesting that Willie picked out the three stuffed squirrels that were in his box.

Willie was expressing himself with his toys. I don’t think it takes a genius to recognize this.

He was showing his people that he really liked watching and chasing those large numbers of squirrels all weekend.

And it is really quite remarkable. He was using objects that represented the animals that he saw. It is obvious that he knows those stuffed squirrels aren’t the same as the real ones, but he does know that they somehow represent the real ones.


Willie is not the only dog to use toys to represent things.

I saw this program on the National Geographic Channel a few years ago. This doberman had been abandoned and had trouble trusting people. He eventually came out of his shell, but what was really interesting is that he also used toys to express himself:


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dog rolling in manure

There is one thing that you’ll never read on this blog:

You’ll never read over-sentimentalized,  saccharine dog stories.

I don’t have any. I don’t have a book like this one in me at all.

I like dogs a lot.

But I’m not one of these people who thinks they are furry angels.

They are not.

They are good company. Sometimes they are better company than most people are.

But they are animals.

They driven by instincts and drives that are very different from us.

They live in a different world, but it is paradoxically, the same environment in which we live.

They bond to us, and we think they love us (which may be a clever way of getting us to feed them and pay for their health care).

I prefer to see dogs as they are, not idealized versions that more or less resemble characters in bad fiction.

I marvel that they revel in rolling in manure and will eat their own vomit.

I like the dog in all of its unwholesome glory.

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pai dog

I’ve never understood this one.

But lots of people call dogs their children

I don’t.

Dogs are dogs.

A dog is a special subspecies of wolf that can live safely with people. It has evolved an ability to learn from humans that the other wolf subspecies don’t have. It is also a far better associative learner than virtually any other species or subspeces in the order Carnivora.

That’s the part of dogs I find fascinating. The fact that they are another organism, and yet they bond with us and easily learn from us.

My view on dogs is best summarized in this oft-quoted paragraph from Henry Beston in The Outermost House:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

To patronize a dog with our projections of parenthood does them a great disservice. What they really want is someone to understand them as they are. They don’t want to be babies. They want to be dogs. That means that they need to have an outlet for their drives and instincts, which are often quite different from our own.

I’ll give you a good example. Consider the absolute joy that dogs get in rolling in rotting and stinking things. There are lots of folk ethology reasons for them doing so. It’s camouflage, says one theory. They are covering up their scent so they can better stalk prey animals. Now,  I would think that deer and other ungulates would soon learn to fear the stench of rotting carcasses!

My own theory on why dogs do this behavior is twofold. Dogs are mostly olfactory organisms. They relish smells probably in the same way we relish beautiful land and seascapes.  The best way to enjoy those smells is for the dog to anoint itself with the object that gives off that odor. And we humans take photographs of land and seascapes that we find enjoyable. Dogs don’t have cameras, so in order to take the stench home, they have to get some on their bodies to take home. There must be some evolutionary advantage in wild dog and wolf societies to have a novel smell. Perhaps having that novel smell on your body gives you more political clout than if you just smelled like a dirty old dog.

For us, rolling in rotting redolent refuse is an unsanitary and unconscionable act. Our nose are weak things, and our species has evolved a heightened sensitivity to anything we perceive as dirty or stinking. Such a tendency allowed our ancestors to live in high densities without contracting disease very easily. We simply had a genetic (or perhaps cultural) aversion to the smell of feces and rotting corpse. (It’s got to be genetic. I don’t know of a single culture that likes lying around in feces and rotting corpses.)

But these two species are able to share the same homes, even the same beds and food. That’s really a weird thing. One animal anoints itself with rotting objects that give off pungent odors. The other avoids these objects at all costs. And yet we call each other family.

I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate what a dog is until you try to understand them as the animal that they are.

The more you realize what dogs are, the more you realize how unusual they really are. No other species of large carnivore lives in such an intimate as dogs live with us. Indeed, it’s not safe for us to live with any other large carnivore in such a way. Bears are too emotionally reactive to be safe companions, and big cats have rather deeply ingrained predatory motor patterns which humans can easily trigger.

Imprinted wolves have this same sort of problem, although it’s almost always children that trigger the motor pattern. But they are also more emotionally reactive than most domestic dogs are, and most of them are totally unfit for domestic life, even if a small minority are actually quite dog-like (like “Wags.”)

I find all of these aspects of dogs really interesting.

I don’t find it very interesting that people like to turn them into children.

To me, that does the dog a very great injustice. It narrows the human mind. It prevents us from asking questions– from wondering why dogs are the way they are and why on earth they live with us so well. Those are fascinating questions, and ones that could help us come up with better ways to fulfill our dogs and provide them better lives.

Maybe it’s because I’m very much a rationalist, but I like my dogs because they are dogs, not because they are furry toddlers that eat horse poop.

Maybe dogs need their own slogan:

I am canine. Hear me woof.

(Note: I am no animal rights lunatic or “animal liberationist.” Please train your dogs. Dogs require training– that’s actually an intrinsic part of their nature. They must be trained in order to be fulfilled.)

(Note II: Every dog I’ve known that was treated as a baby was neutrotic or potentially psychotic in some fashion. You cannot tell me that dog as child projection is very healthy for dogs.)

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golden retriever retrieving squirrel

Many of you who frequent this blog know that I had a very driven retriever with very strong retrieving instincts. She is really what got me into working-type golden retrievers.

Now, I may have mentioned what a good retriever she was and how good her soft mouth was. She could carry an egg in her mouth without leaving so much as a scratch on it.

However, she had another interesting behavior. She had the full predatory motor pattern sequence. Now, it never hurt her retrieving behavior. She seemed to have almost parallel motor patterns, one with a killing bite and one without one.

She learned to kill from a Norwegian elkhound, who was a fierce rabbiter and squirrel dog. He was also a good ratter and mouser. He had the full predatory motor pattern and no retrieving instinct. He was very typical of the elkhound-laika type of hunting spitz. We don’t have moose in West Virginia, but he was used as a working gun dog for small game. The golden accompanied the elkhound on hunting trips, and because dogs are actually quite good at observational learning, picked up the kill-bite technique from the elkhound.

Generally, working retrievers shouldn’t be allowed to develop the full killing motor pattern because there is a chance that this could turn into hard mouth. However, in the HPR breeds, like Weimaraners and the other German HPR’s, the dogs can retrieve, and they are allowed to kill and fight game. These dogs are used on pheasants and patridge as well as rabbits, hares, foxes, and even wild boar. And yet these dogs have retrieving instinct. That tells me that it is more common for working gun dogs to have the ability to have the retrieving motor patterns and sequence and a full hunting behavior sequence. I have never read  about this in the canine behavior journals, but HPR owners in that part of the world require both the full sequence and the modified sequence that we call retrieving. I think we need some really good studies on dogs that have parallel predatory motor patterns, but thus far, I’ve yet to see any mention of it.

The only other place I’ve found mention of a successful retriever is George T. Teasdale-Buckell’s Labrador retriever:

“The only dog the sort [Labrador] that the author ever had was death on cats, but this accomplishment did not make him hard-mouthed with game, as it probably would nine retrievers out of ten.”

George T. Teasdale Buckell The Complete English Shot (1907) p. 194

A breeder of Large Munsterlanders says the following about early imports of the breed to this country in an article in Gun Dog Magazine:

“Some of these imported dogs came from parts of Germany where hunting big game was a major objective. Those dogs had been bred as trackers that would follow wounded wild boar, bring them to bay and kill them if necessary.”

Now, Large Munsterlanders usually have retrieving instinct. They aren’t used exclusively as retrievers, as the breeder suggests. However. they also show that it’s not that uncommon for a dog to have retrieving instincts and full predatory motor patterns. How these coexist in the same dog is a question well worth the study of any ethologist or animal behaviorist.

After all, the literature seems to suggest that dogs with modified predatory motor patterns, like retrieving, cannot have the full sequence, simply because if the dog had the full motor patterns, it couldn’t do its work.

I think this assumption is mostly poppycock. However, I still don’t recommend turning golden retrievers into varmint dogs, if you want to also use them as working retrievers.


Before I get comments pointing this out, I need to make a point that many people don’t often consider. While the other German HPR’s are of gun dog ancestry, the Weimaraner is actually a big game hound that later developed pointing and retrieving behavior. The others are gun dogs that also have been developed to hunt game as hounds.  The Weimaraner got its pointing and retrieving behavior through cross-breeding with the other German HPR’s. That’s why they look similar. However, I think the best idea of what a Weimaraner once looked like is actually something like a Plott hound, just with that typical gray coloration. The Plott family now considers the original Weimaraner to be one of the ancestors of their unique breed.

I’ve never seen Weimaraners hunt anything other than birds, and most of the ones I’ve been around don’t have much retrieving instinct. However, I think any study of this behavior needs to be careful when considering the Weimaraner.

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Dogs have no function. They are just social parasites. And if you believe that, try bringing in a few half-wild range cattle on your own.

Dogs have no function. They are just social parasites. And if you believe that, try bringing in a few half-wild range cattle on your own.

Jonah Goldberg defends the human-animal bond in this op-ed piece.

I don’t find Jon Katz or Stephen Budiansky all that convincing at all.

Dogs are not social parasites, and they never have been. They originally started out as the original sanitation engineers, cleaning up refuse in those hunter-gather camps of yore. They also moonlighted as early security systems, barking like mad when enemies of either the bipedal or quadruped variety approached. They also kept man warm, snuggling in on the coldest nights. They also provided food and furs, something we don’t like to talk about, but dogs were probably an important food source in those days when other domestic beasts weren’t available.

BTW, does anyone see any violation of Morgan’s Canon in Zorn and Budiansky’s theory?

Morgan’s Canon is derived from Occham’s (or Occam’s) razor, which argues that the simplest explanation with the fewest assumption is usually the correct one. Morgan’s Canon argues that we should not attribute to animals higher thought processes when we can explain their behavior using lower level ones.

Well, which requires higher level thought processes– actually bonding very strongly to humans or pretending to bond to humans so that the animal can be a parasite?

If the former is true then dogs are smarter than most primates. In fact, they are smarter than humans, because we haven’t figured out to make other species work 40-60 hours a week in order to feed us, buy us toys, and let us live in homes with heating and air conditioning without paying any kind of rent.

I don’t know whether dogs are capable of love. We barely understand love in our own species, so how on earth are we going to describe in another? But I do know that dogs bond very strongly with people.

However, I do know that calling dogs social parasites is about as intellectually vapid as calling them all Lassies. Calling them social parasites is very nice way ignoring the real sociological impact of pet keeping on the human psyche. All people, even “primitive” hunter-gatherers, keep pets and have kept pets in the past. It’s one of those things that sets us apart from other animals. We like to keep pets. It provides for us a sociological and psychological need that is probably deeply written into our evolutionary past. It is that part that Mr. Budiansky entirely misunderstands.

Further, dogs do provide tangible economic benefits. James Serpell has argued that it would have been impossible for us to domesticate sheep and goat without the use of dogs. Those animals in their wild state simply live too far up in the mountains for us to catch them or herd them. Even today, shepherds in the far remote mountains need dogs to manage the sheep. The people of the far north needed dogs for transport until the arrival of snow mobiles. You simply couldn’t feed horses in the Arctic, but you could feed dogs on seal meat, whale meat, caribou venison, and fish.

Further, my own dogs were developed in the Victorian Era, when gentlemen believed that it was wrong to cripple game and leave it to suffer in the field. A retriever was a humane hunting instrument, which collected the wounded birds, hares, or rabbit and brought them in for a humane dispatch.

Now, if Budiansky et al would like a better critical analysis of the dog, I would suggest that they all have a look at Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. (I doubt that Jonah Goldberg would like me recommending this book to read in addition to his piece, but that’s life.)

In that book, Veblen excoriates the dog fancy. It has turned dog ownership into conspicuous consumption, also known as “Keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. The dogs themselves have no function or utility, and because of their lack of function or utility, keeping them is a sign of one’s stature within the community. It is the inverse of breeding for utility. The owners’ stature increases as the deformity, novelty, and lack of utility increase. That’s why the bulldog and pug became so horribly distorted. The less they looked like dogs the higher their value became. And that is part of the reason why dogs are so messed up today.

To call all dogs social parasites is unbelievably stupid. Dogs add value to human society. It might be difficult to do a cost-benefit analysis on them, for much they give are intangibles. But it is clear that they do give back a lot more than they take.  Otherwise, I don’t think we would have raised the dog to this high status in society.

*Note that the only reason why Mr. Goldberg hasn’t totally redeemed himself in my eyes is that I’m sure he’d call me a “Liberal Fascist.” I’m not, incidentally.  I believe everyone has a right to his or her opinion, even if I disagree and will fight to keep certain policies from being implemented. But on dogs, I think Goldberg and I very much agree.  I also think that a lot of  so-called “modernity” is hogwash, but it’s not as much hogwash as “post-modernity.”

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From The Economist.

Basically, this study replacates a study done by Brian Hare in which wolves dogs were n tested for their observational learning. Hare’s studies did use wolves that were not kept as dogs.

However, here’s the flaw. The study that Hare did not come up with the methdology. The researchers at Eotovos Lorand University in Hungary came up with them.

They have performed numerous experiments on the dogs and wolves and all of them show the dogs are better at this than wolves are. And they used wolves that were kept as dogs.

I don’t know why this study is so different. It may just be a fluke.

And we get these in science.

And when this happens, we play around a bit to see what is methodological issue.

And if we can’t, we return to what we already know has been accepted through other experimentation. It is called parsimony.

Thus, this study is interesting, but my guess is that wolves are incapable of learning from people at the same level as dogs.

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These toy spaniels have been trained to kill rabbits.

These toy spaniels have been trained to kill rabbits.

From Raymond and Lorna Coppinger’s Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution:

Brian Plummer in Scotland has a pod of [Cavalier] King Charles spaniels that tears across the countryside searching for bunnies and kills them. Here is a hunt that is seriously uniform, to say the least. They have not been selected to be hunting dogs. But Brian, who prides himself on being a good dog trainer, uses them to illustrate his point: if you think about it and work at, you can teach any dog to do any task.

I made the case that any dog can do anything only if it is socialized correctly when a tiny puppy. I was sure Brian would see this as an exception to the rule that you can train any dog to do any task. He didn’t seem to. Then I asked Brian if one could train King Charles spaniels to hunt lions. Or could King Charles spaniels join transhumant migration, and guard sheep against wolves, even if they were socialized properly? Well, Brian’s a good dog man; he knows dogs. He just gave me a big grin and asked: “What do you think?” (154-155).


Brian believes that nuture is more important than nature in determining intelligence [working ability].  I had spent a delightful day hunting rabbits with Brian and his  [Cavalier] King Charles Spaniels (#44).

“Why did you pick this breed?” said I.

“Because these dogs have been the epitome of the housebound, nonworking pet dog for centuries,” said he.  “If I can train them to hunt rabbits, I make my point:  I can train any breed to do anything.”  And sure enough, after scampering over hill and dale (actually, the neighbor’s lawn), holing the rabbit, and driving it out with a ferret, the King Charles spaniels killed it.

Then we went down to the river and put his golden retriever (#4) through the fetch, retriever, and deliver-to-hand routines. Nice dog! she would work all day long and enver quit. I asked Brian if he could train his golden to herd sheep, and he responded instantly, “No problem. It would be asy to train a golden to herd sheep.”

“Could you then take that dog into a sheepdog trial and win?”

“Oh no!” he said without hesitation. I knew I was talking to someone who understands behavioral conformation.

“Oh no!” Just like that. The reason he cannot teach the golden to win a sheep trial is the same reason I cannot teach a dachshund to win a sled dog race. They are the wrong shape– the wrong conformation. The dachshund has the wrong physical conformation and the golden wrong behavioral conformation to herd sheep (192-193).

The numbers are the rankings for each breed in “Working and Obedience Intelligence” that Stanely Coren put together in The Intelligence of Dogs. (The ranking in Wikipedia does not line up with list in that I have in my copy of Coren’s book.)

The authors continue:

I have trained border collies to retrieve ducks, but it is just for fun, perhaps an interesting novelty. The border collies isn’t as big and its mouth is the wrong shape and it does not have the body volume of a swimming dog. It gets cold. It lacks the appropriate physical conformation. But what if took a German shepherd or some other breed that was about the same size and still couldn’t get it perform like a good retriever: I’d have to conclude it not only he size that’s important. Rather, there is something about the shape that underlies the perfect performance.

Shape of the perfect performance? It is the shape of the brain the breed that is the underlying cause of the unique intelligence [working ability]. Intelligence is not more or less in each breed, but rather, each breed has a different kind of intelligence (193-194).

Essentially, what the authors are saying is that you can train dogs to do lots of things, but there are unique talents and abilities in all of these different strains of dog. These talents and abilities are hard-wired into the strains, and these strains provide the ability to work at various tasks.

Not only do dogs have to have the right working conformation in terms of size and build, they also have to exhibit the right behaviors. Biddability is an inherited ability, just as any other behavior. Biddability is nothing more than an enhanced ability to communicate and receive communication from humans. It is nothing more. It is not intelligence, per se. It is working ability.

Retrieving, pointing, herding, and quartering are all inherited motor patterns that are hard-wired into dogs. In these strains, we expect these motor patterns to develop. Once they develop, the dog can be polished through training into a working animal.

This is not to say that some dogs don’t exhibit unusual inherited motor patterns for their breed. I’ve seen pointing Labs and goldens and read about a pointing bloodhound. I knew a miniature dachshund that had very strong retrieving motor patterns and was as a hard driving about her retrieving as any retriever. I know a Jack Russell that is the same way. German shepherds and other continental sheepdogs, along with collie-types, exhibit an air-scenting motor pattern somewhat similar to quartering in a gun dog.

But all of these dogs are not at the same level as a dog that has been bred for generation after generation to exhibit the strongest level of these inherited motor predatory motor patterns. That’s why they are generally much better at these activities than other breeds of dog that give off these abilities.

Now, that Jack Russell I mentioned is a far better retriever than my current golden. He would be useless for his breed’s original task, but he wouldn’t be a good bird retriever. He has another motor pattern. Whenever he retrieves a tennis ball, he gets really into it, and if you’re done playing with him, he’ll take that ball and pluck all the green fuzz off it. I can just see him doing that to a shot bird.

Behavioral conformation is really important to working breeds. It provides the basis for which training can proceed. I’ll actually go a bit farther. In a working breed, the behavioral conformation is inherited and then polished and refined through good training. And that’s why if we breed working dogs, we have to focus on breeding these working motor patterns.

I am aware that this is controversial for some people.  I’m not denying you can’t train any dog to do these specialized behaviors. What I am denying is that is nearly impossible for you to train any dog to do these specialized behaviors and have them compete successfully against dogs that were already hard-wired to have them.

*Keep in mind that I don’t agree with everything that the Coppingers say in this book. However, it is a really good primer for understanding dog behavior in terms of their evolutionary past and their centuries of selective breeding.

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From thrasher123.

Great working dogs are bred and then polished through training. Training does not replace sound breeding practices.

You cannot train a dog to go birdy. You cannot train a dog to exhibit the pointing motor pattern.  (Now, you can train a dog to retrieve, but that’s a bit different.)

But good working dogs are born with these natural motor patterns. Training merely polishes and focuses the dog’s working abilities.

Training is important, but it is not the only thing.

And to suggest otherwise is a bit disingenuous.

When you find me the Jack Russell that points birds or the golden retriever that catches feral hogs, then you might have a point.

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Working dogs are working dogs because they have behaviors that make them useful. Some of these useful behaviors have been further honed through advent of trials and working tests, although it is often debated about whether trials reflect the “real world” of a working breed. Either way, working dogs are bred behaviors, drives, motor patterns, and emotional reactivity that makes sense for the dog to complete the task at hand.

But are are these traits compatible with the needs of the pet home?  Generally, pet owners want a dog that is of moderate or low activity level and very low prey drive. Herding, retrieving, pointing, flushing, and the hunting behavior of scenthounds, sighthounds, and earthdogs  are all either modified predatory behavior or full predatory behavior. The dogs that perform best at these tasks have relativley high levels fo prey drive.  In some of these working breeds, an extremely high energy level and endurance is also necessary.

These traits simply do not fit well in most pet homes.  Most Americans work long hours, and while that does not mean that one cannot care for high-energy obsessive working dog, it does mean that most people are unable to make the time to do so.  Further, leash laws and fenced yards mean that most of these dogs wind up living like tigers in the old zoo cages. It also means that an intelligent,  highly active dog will come up with ways to amuse itself. Hole digging, landscaping, and home renovation could become wonderful diversions from an otherwise boring day.

So the traits that make working dogs excellent at what they do can make them lousy pets. It is possible to channel those traits into other work, which explains why border collies do so well at agility and flyball. However, the average person is better off with a low energy, low drive animal.

And what are these low-drive dogs?

Well, although they may have health problems, most of the  small brachycephalic breeds are low drive dogs. Great Pyrenees are quite low drive, and unlike other livestock guardians, some lines have really low protective instincts (of course, you don’t want that if you want a real livestock guardian.)

However, it is a bit of a mistake to choose working breeds that have been intentionally bred to be calm. You simply do not know how the addition of that one trait will effect the general temperament of the animal.

So when choosing a dog that has been bred for a purpose, one must consider how one intends to focus that dog’s abilities. Otherwise, the dog might prove to be a disaster.

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