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Clive Norman Headshot

Who's The Boss

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As a dog walker I am better placed than most to observe and learn about the idiosyncrasies of our furry friends. As we know dogs evolved from wolves and have become our closest animal friends. We have at times gotten caught up with 'who is the leader of the pack'. As we have concentrated and learned so much of their behaviour by studying wolf packs. As valuable as that has been to us, the more I watch the dogs in my care and that of my own dog, I am coming to the conclusion that they have evolved over time and certainly over the last 100 years or so (as we have begun to keep them as pets) to currently be almost unrecognisable from the close knit wolf packs.

Of course they still have many of the characteristics that can easily be identified as being wolf like, however we have become very hung up on who is the leader of our own pack. Max as I think I may have mentioned before, is the most naturally dominant male I have met. Incidentally when you use the word dominant, many people see that as to mean aggressive which really is far from the truth. I think the reason for this is we have so many T.V. programmes discussing dominance aggression, that the ill informed take it mean that dominance means only one thing, and that is aggression.

I have also noted that of course working dogs from a hundred or so years ago would nearly always be kept in their pack and live in kennels away from the family home. So during the transition from working pack to family pet, has meant a huge change for the dog, and is it any wonder they are confused as to how to behave. Whereas they used to live in packs, most pet dogs know only their human friends and can easily go days and sometimes weeks without so much as even seeing another dog. Yet we still expect them to conform to the stereotype that we understand. If you took a human child and had a family of chimpanzees rear it as there own, would that child on becoming an adult just fit straight in to human society even at its most basic level? I don't think it would and so find it astonishing that we expect dogs to accept one another just because they are dogs.

The dogs which I walk are all from single dog homes and it has been really interesting watching them sort out there various differences. Whether it is over a stick, a ball, food or even what they would see as their own spot in the car for the journey home. I, whenever possible stay out of their disagreements for a couple of reasons. The first is really for their benefit, as if they are not allowed to settle disagreements, what would happen? If we humans allow arguments to fester, what happens! Then surely why would these very bright creatures behave any differently? The second being a selfish one, where I am just looking to learn from them. An example of this is when my Max and his good mate Buster. Buster likes to see himself as boss (although he is more the spoiled child who wants his own way. Nevertheless, he's learning) he thinks all he has to do is throw his weight around with a snarl and all the others will bow to his superiority. Well Max is about 10kgs larger than Buster and is not easily intimidated. Buster had taken up his usual prime position in the front foot-well of the car, but of course could not have known that I stupidly had left a jam doughnut on the dashboard. On returning to the car having only been gone for about 2 minutes, I then saw Max sitting quite calmly and with a certain air of authority, in the foot well facing out through the windscreen (the importance here is that he had his back turned to all the other dogs in the car including Buster). I noticed on his right cheek that he had a half inch cut to it which in dog terms is a paper cut, the doughnut had gone incidentally! Max does like jam doughnuts. Now Buster was sat pretty sullenly right at the back of the car and on checking him over thoroughly not a mark on him, but of course he had been forced to give up his right to the prime spot in the car without anything more than a bruised ego! Before you all think I am the worst dog walker in the world, I know Buster and Max VERY well and so by leaving them together it would never escalate beyond a short tiff. On the flip side I just maybe, but that is in the hands of my clients! Also if ever I saw a disagreement where the two participants really just don't get it, then yes I do intervene.

If any of you have ever been to a farm show, quite often they will have a pack or two of Foxhounds. I know I was shocked! The pack of about twenty dogs that were all extremely fit, except for the multitude of cuts, bumps and even sections of ears missing. Why? Well simply because of their own internal discipline which takes place on a daily basis. No, I am not suggesting we allow our dogs to go taking lumps out of one another. Having said this we should be far less surprised when it does happen and yes I am surprised it doesn't happen more often. The biggest problem I do see in the family dog is that of a hard mouth. The dog itself may not even be dominant but due to having been taken from its own litter into solitary confinement, has never learned to control the power of its own jaw. This can have the knock on effect of the two participants fighting only because one of them had not learned this important play behaviour trait as a pup.

IF we are insistent in demanding that dogs fit comfortably into our world we are surely intelligent enough to realise that we will create a social behaviour imbalance in theirs.