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.