Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | July 1, 2009

Do Dogs Need Parents or Alpha’s?

Jody the bookworm

Jody the bookworm

A major aspect of the mission of Second Chance Humane Society is about promoting the human-animal bond.  Second Chance feels that in recognizing this natural bond people will ultimately become more responsive to the physical and emotional needs of pets and humane and responsible treatment of pets will become the norm. 

Along this theme, one of my favorite authors, Temple Grandin, has published a new book “Animals Make Us Human” (she also authored the bestseller “Animals in Translation”) which focuses on emotions as the key to the welfare and well-being of animals.  This book helps readers to recognize how natural and innate the human-animal connection is as we both share the same basic set of core emotions and desires. 

If humans recognized that the same emotion systems you are born with are shared with animals (such as seeking and fear), perhaps a better understanding of how animals respond to these emotions could evolve.  A human recognition of yourselves through your pets may be the best training tool you could apply.

Grandin also makes a strong case for the need for dogs like me to bond with humans, more than any other species on the planet as we are more tuned in to people than any other species.  For example, unlike wolves or chimpanzees, we are the only animals that can follow a person’s gaze or pointing finger.  As we are genetic wolves that evolved to live and communicate with humans she also is finding that applying some of the “wolf pack” training systems may not be as effective as we thought.

Grandin reviews thirteen years of research on wolf packs in the Northwest Territories of Canada and elaborates on the point that, “In the wild, wolves don’t live in wolf packs, and they don’t have an alpha male who fights the other wolves to maintain his dominance”.  Wait a minute???  What???  So our whole image of wolf packs and alphas is wrong?!?!?  Oh boy…

The research shows that wolves actually live as human families do with parents and siblings and an occasional adopted relative wolf “aunt”.  The research that led us to believe that wolves live in packs was done on wolves living in captivity who always tended to create “unnatural family systems”.  The dominance hierarchy evolved from a group of unrelated wolves who were put together by humans.  But in the wild wolves do not rely on dominance hierarchies to keep peace and order.  Uh-oh, what is Caesar going to do with this information?

I will leave you with some closing thoughts.  You can either read Grandin’s book or a follow up Pet Column, both of which will further explore questions such as: If dogs are wolves and wolves don’t need pack leaders, do dogs need pack leaders?  Did dogs instead evolve to live with human families and thus need a mom and a dad rather than a pack leader?  Or, are dogs living with human families more reflective of a forced unrelated wolf pack, in which an alpha is required?

My name is Jody and I am looking for a new family that will honor my emotional and physical needs and let me read all the interesting books that I want.  I am a 3 month old Rottweiler mix with sweet puppy breath and an abundance of kisses to share.  Come snuggle me today!

Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter Financial Assistance, Volunteer & Foster Care, or other Programs.  Visit our shelter pets online:  Direct Pet Column questions to:  kelly@secondchancehumanesociety.orgPhoto by Real Life Photographs.


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