Posts Tagged ‘L. David mech’

I remember watching this documentary on PBS a long time ago:


Big game hunting wolves from the northern subspecies are perfectly adapted to killing large ungulates.

No pair of domestic dogs could kill even a winter weakened muskox.

But through the wonders of evolution, these Arctic wolves can hunt muskoxen and caribou. Those that live a bit to the south, regularly grapple with moose.

Dogs are much more easily compared to the more generalist southern subspecies of wolf, like pallipes, arabs, and whatever the Indian population of pallipes is.

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David Mech


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More David Mech


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Now I am not saying dogs are the same as the big game hunting wolves that Mech has studied.

However, I don’t think you can base all of dog behavior off of this dominance literature, which actually comes from the work of Rudolf Schenkel. Schenkel studied captive packs of wolves in Switzerland that, as Dr. Mech pointed out, were unrelated assemblages of individuals.

Schenkel was operating in the culture of ethology within the German-speaking world, which, of course, was heavily influenced by people like Konrad Lorenz (a National Socialist scientist) and other Germans who saw the wolf as the ideal canine. It was wild and hard, just like the society that Germans dreamed of creating with people. The dog and the golden jackal were seen as the degenerates. The golden jackal was almost like the “Jewish” wild dog, while the domestic dog was the creation of too much coddling from the welfare state and other excesses of liberalism.

Although most of these ideas were discredited after the Second World War, these studies and this culture has tinctured our understanding of what dogs and wolves are.

We incorrectly assume  that all wolves are like wild ones that live in northern tier and Canada and in northern Europe. What about the ones that live in India or the Middle East? What about  the ones that live in Ethiopia? (Yes, those Ethiopian ones are different species, but they aren’t that different from the others.)

We also incorrectly assume that wolves have always behaved the way they do. I think this is a fundamental error.

It takes real work to socialize a  modern wolf to a human, and it requires specialized formulas and taking the pups away from their mothers before they are 19 days. I don’t think that hunter-gathers were able to do those sorts of things.

That means that the wolves they domesticated had different tendencies than modern wolves do. Perhaps they had longer critical periods for socialization. Perhaps they were like virtually all other wild dogs that have never been hunted by man– extremely curious about us. If those were both true, then domesticating wolves would have been much easier. So easy that a cave man could do it.

I don’t think you’re getting very much from assuming that wolves and dogs have the same social structure, when it’s obvious that wolves don’t all have the same social structure.

And it also ignores that domestication has allowed dogs certain cognitive shortcuts that allow us to teach them rules and to give them more freedom. The average dog is capable of learning and internalizing rules that wolves would never be able to learn.

One thing I’ve always read was that socialized coyotes and wolves are nearly impossible to housebreak. They just don’t get it. And this sort of throws out the theory that dogs are den animals and won’t soil in the house because they think it’s their den.

What really happens is the dogs learn the rules from their humans where they are supposed to relieve themselves.

And the reason why dogs can do this and wolves can is that dogs learn rules. They seek social approval from people. Wolves might bond to us, but they don’t have the ability to bond with us in exactly the same fashion.

Dogs also need freedom to be dogs. This is always left out of dog behavior discussions, but dogs need to run off leash. They need to meet other dogs. They need smell them, lick them, and hump them (even if it is another dog of the same sex! Dogs do not have much use for our anthropomorphism or our puritanical sensitivities.) They need to self-anoint with disgusting substances and piss on things. They need to wallow in mud puddles and eat deer feces.

They need these things because they are dogs. What would you be like it if you never got to read a good book, listen to good music, or watch a good program on television? What if you never traveled, except to go to the doctor to get a shot or your reproductive organs removed?

I think you’d be pretty barmy.

The real cause of behavioral pathologies in dogs is not dominance. It’s an over-used term. It is that dogs are not allowed to act out parts of their nature. They are kept in suburban yards or in apartments 8, 9, 10, 12 or more hours a day. In most suburban yards, all dogs have to do is listen to the neighbors’ dogs bark at things and then eventually join right in.

The real problems that dogs are facing here is that their natures are forever being bent to suit our needs, and now their fundamental natures are reaching the breaking point.

Where I grew up, dogs were allowed to roam freely. These dogs never bit anyone. They were never in severe fights. They never tried to use aggression to control people because they had other things to think about. If you’re locked in a house and yard all day with nothing to do, at least some of you would develop some weird social pathologies, like trying to take over the house.

The real discussion about the best way to keep our dogs is trying to find some balance. Yes, give the dogs rules, but those rules should exist only to give the dog more safety and more freedom over his or her own life. And communities need to find ways of providing good off-leash spaces for dogs.

Dogs also have to be allowed to socialize as puppies. They need to grow up experiencing things. They do need some basic training here, but the really important thing is for puppies to see things like buildings, cars, strangers, horses, and all sorts of other things.

Just as wolves are far more complex than you could imagine, the relationship between man and dog is something far too complicated to get caught up in discussions of hierarchy. But just as not all human relations are based upon dominance and submission, the relations between dogs and between dogs and people cannot be so horribly reduced.

I am glad that the scholarship on wolves and dogs that was so tainted by Nazi and early twentieth century German science is now being replaced with better scholarship. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Lepzig and  Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest have finally begun to look at the domestic dog very differently. Their studies are shining light on the remarkable abilities that domestic dogs have evolved to live with these mercurial naked apes with nuclear weapons and God complexes.

And if we’re going to have a discussion about dog behavior and how to best keep them, that’s where we should be looking.

I personally don’t want to live with a pack of big game hunting wolves. I want to live with domestic dogs.

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 So says the linguist Will Graves. Yes, linguist, and an expert on the Russian language. Russia has a long history of wolf hating. Wolves do kill livestock. However, they very, very, very rarely attack people. We’ve had only one fatality of a healthy wolf (it was actually two) killing a person in North America. In modern Europe, there isn’t a single case. A pack of wolves snatched children in India, but basically, wolves are not dangerous to people. Wolves do kill livestock and domestic dogs, usually over territority (sometimes for food).

Dogs attack 500,000 to 1 million people per year. As I’ve said before, the Spanish used dogs to their advantage against the native peoples of Latin America and Florida. These big mastiffs killed people in much the same way wolves kill their prey.

For some reason wolves just don’t think of people as food. I don’t know why.

Read L. David Mech’s works about wolves if you want to know the real animal. For fun, read Farley Mowat, but don’t believe everything he says in it, either. Some of what he says is really good in it, but wolves do kill game species.  The Inuit he uses as a source actually consider the wolf vital to maintaining the fitness of caribou herds.  This tribe no longer lives as it once did, so the wolf is alone in that part of the world.

We need to understant that both Mowat and Graves’s work are both based on folklore. Mowat’s book is based on Inland Inuit folklore as much as Graves’s book is based on Russian superstition. Mech’s work is real science.

Certain political organizations are really good at putting crappy “exposes” of this type on the market. In the world of politics, we know this too well.

Here’s a video of some researchers observing a wolf den. Really dangerous animals, aren’t they?

Wolves can kill people. I’m sure it’s happened, but it’s far rarer than shark attacks. And we all know, thanks to Shark Week, that shark attacks are quite uncommon.

So we should use Russian folklore to create wildlife policy?

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