Dogs Are Not Wolves

Pet dogs unable to think for themselves after centuries of adult pampering

Dogs have become so reliant on humans that they have lost the ability to think properly for themselves, according to a new study.

Researchers believe that years of domestication has led to dogs losing the problem solving skills they once had in the wild.

Pet dogs failed basic intelligence tests that wolves and wild dogs pass with ease, according to the research.

The findings suggest they are now so dependent on people they are simply stupid versions of their forefathers.

What bothers me about this news item is the assumption that because dogs are not like wolves, they are “dumb”.  I think that this ignores that a) we bred dogs to behave like baby wolves and b) we bred dogs with the intelligence they have for a reason and c) most pet dogs’ lives are not conducive to problem solving.

Adult wolves are generally big, fearful, aggressive, high-prey-drive, active animals.  Wolves that have been “tamed” have attacked people, domestic pets and other animals.  Their high reactivity and combination of fear and aggression, especially towards people and domestic animals that they have been exposed to on a regular basis, makes them very bad choices for “pets”. (NO, wolves are not evil, nasty creatures that hunt down children just to hear them scream.  They’re wild animals with their own set of behaviours.  As it makes no sense to ignore their capabilities, it makes no sense to vilify them.)

On the flip side, wolf puppies are playful, have a high degree of tolerance for physical contact, pay attention to their Alphas and pack members and have a lower (controllable) prey drive.  They are also pretty damn cute, something that some breeds of domestic dog also replicate.

The reason we domesticated the dog is because an animal behaviourally similar to a wolf puppy is more likely to coexist with humans than an animal with the behaviour, instincts and capabilities of a wolf adult. We have manipulated canine DNA to the point where some breeds have a high degree of a particular trait and low degrees of other traits that wolves have to their highest degrees.

People generally don’t want a pet with the intelligence to figure out how to get out of the yard, into food on the counter or into any number of potentially hazardous, annoying situations.  People with Northern breeds often find out that they have a little bit more of the wolf than other dog breeds and have an unfortunate predeliction for escape, problem solving and other traits that would make them likely to survive in an unforgiving landscape.  This also makes them hell to live with for the person who thinks a waggled forefinger and a stern “Bad Dog!” is the limit for redirecting canine behaviour.

Dogs aren’t wolves.  Who knew?  In breeding for the traits that make the dog able to live in human society, we have also bred for the comprehension level of the wolf puppy.  Saying that dogs are ‘dumb’ because they don’t think like wolves is like saying a 2 year old is dumb because it can’t do what a 10 year old does with ease.

I also wonder how feral dogs (not dingoes) would perform on these tests.  The dogs of Moscow have learned to use the commuter trains and recognize the announced names for the various stops.  Pet dogs don’t have a lot of chances to develop their problem solving skills.  We don’t want a dog who can figure out how to get to a bowl of food on the other side of the fence; we want a dog who will stay in the goddamned yard.  Perhaps dog intelligence is not bred out but trained out.  I don’t know how many times I’ve told Tierce, “Shut up.  Let me do the thinking.”  He doesn’t listen to me, but sometimes it would be nice if he did.

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The Misanthropic Shiba

14 Comments

  1. "People generally don’t want a pet with the intelligence to figure out how to get out of the yard, into food on the counter or into any number of potentially hazardous, annoying situations." Apparently people who DO want these things get Shiba Inus!

  2. "People generally don’t want a pet with the intelligence to figure out how to get out of the yard, into food on the counter or into any number of potentially hazardous, annoying situations." Apparently people who DO want these things get Shiba Inus!

  3. A domesticated dog has different problem-solving skills. If I'm eating a snack, and Safari tried to stare me down for it or attacks me… she would not get it. But if she acts all cute, and brings me a toy, and gives me a few pathetic sighs, she just might get some. A wolf would never figure that out.

  4. A domesticated dog has different problem-solving skills. If I'm eating a snack, and Safari tried to stare me down for it or attacks me… she would not get it. But if she acts all cute, and brings me a toy, and gives me a few pathetic sighs, she just might get some. A wolf would never figure that out.

  5. LOL @ you and Tierce! As I was reading, I was thinking the exact same thing that you addressed in your last paragraph. There are feral domestic dogs all over the world. I have seen them from Indian reservations in South Dakota to the city of Amman, Jordan. They have pretty damn good problem solving skills.

  6. "People generally don’t want a pet with the intelligence to figure out how to get out of the yard, into food on the counter or into any number of potentially hazardous, annoying situations." Apparently people who DO want these things get Shiba

  7. I don’t think it’s true that dogs have less problem-solving than wolves. They must have tested dumb dogs, that’s all. You take the average pet dog in my hometown, which is allegedly a bichon – shih tzu cross, bred back to the same parents and siblings for generations, they’re at best “special”. Short-bus special. They’re not half as smart or problem-solvy as wolf puppies. But then you take a German shepherd and they’re perfectly capable of problem-solving. SOME dogs are bred to be stupid, that’s all.

    And I don’t think the difference comes from humans deciding to breed for puppy-like traits in tame wolves thousands of years ago. Rather, some wolves made the choice to live with humans, and those who did self-selected for their ability to live with humans over thousands of generations. I’m sure cavemen got mauled by their cavedogs every bit as often as modern humans get mauled by modern captive wolves, for the first many generations.

  8. A domesticated dog has different problem-solving skills. If I'm eating a snack, and Safari tried to stare me down for it or attacks me… she would not get it. But if she acts all cute, and brings me a toy, and gives me a few pathetic sighs, she just might get some. A wolf would never figure tha

  9. LOL @ you and Tierce! As I was reading, I was thinking the exact same thing that you addressed in your last paragraph. There are feral domestic dogs all over the world. I have seen them from Indian reservations in South Dakota to the city of Amman, Jordan. They have pretty damn good problem solving sk

  10. LOL @ you and Tierce! As I was reading, I was thinking the exact same thing that you addressed in your last paragraph. There are feral domestic dogs all over the world. I have seen them from Indian reservations in South Dakota to the city of Amman, Jordan. They have pretty damn good problem solving skills.

  11. Let’s see. Hoshi, my recent rescue, who is 13 years old, chewed a small escape hole thru the medium weight wire in the dog kennel. Yesterday, I had the fence guy cover potential escape places in the kennel w/ heavier gauge wire. I took Hoshi out to the kennel. He immediately went to the place where the small hole was and pawed at the heavier wire covering it in frustration! It has been several weeks since he chewed that hole in the wire…

  12. I think that Shibas are a teensy bit closer to the adult wolf then many another breed, which accounts for my dead GameBoy, chewed bicycle tools and my landlord’s dead rosebush, proudly uprooted by Tierce and covertly replaced by myself.

  13. “People generally don’t want a pet with the intelligence to figure out how to get out of the yard, into food on the counter or into any number of potentially hazardous, annoying situations.” ….. Remind me again why I have a Shiba? LOL…

  14. exactly – you nailed it – “People generally don’t want a pet with the intelligence to figure out how to get out of the yard, into food on the counter or into any number of potentially hazardous, annoying situations.”

    and then came the shiba..

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