Dog’s Lives, Dog’s Intelligence: New Understanding

by Mary Haight on November 17, 2010

Dog Family page 840-841
Image by perpetualplum via Flickr

Update: @sleepydogwood says “Dogs Decoded” is now available at Netflixthanks very much! (PBS has pulled the free view copy.)

Our understanding of dogs, how we see them, will guide for better or worse how we treat them.  A week ago on pal Edie Jarolim’s Will My Dog Hate Me blog, a post sparked an ongoing conversation with what was for many a reminder “wolf families were not aggressive and  hierarchical with each other” and that the concept of alpha dominance was particularly misunderstood. Understanding  dogs live’s and dog’s intelligence has suffered under the weight of association with words like “pack” – a loaded term often conjuring visions of teeth- snapping violent corrections from the alpha/boss.  As I was chewing over “pack”, the conversation continued.

Deborah Flick of Boulder Dog blog wrote a great post on sending “pack” packing, why “family” is a more suitable description of how wolves live citing still other expert conclusions, and the negative impact the word “pack” has on our  relationship to dogs.  The NOVA piece on PBS the other day seemed to bring things together and wrap it up in a bow. You’ll see what I mean below.

Mary Doane of Mary’s Dogs blog tweeted the PBS link to “Dogs Decoded”. It’s one worth repeating, so I’m sharing the link on my blog, too, for all those who haven’t seen it, and for those readers who may still believe theory that has been shown to be flawed. (And don’t miss Monday night at 9 pm EST for a discussion of this show on Twitter hashtag #BarkOutLoud)

Since these studies will progress, there will be changes and improvements in experiment design, yielding more refined results which should continue to inform. And yes, dog trainers are often ahead of the curve on these studies, and have questions. For now, the social evolution of dogs that has come from the human/dog relationship is a fascinating topic to consider.

Teasing apart which dogs came from what animal when you have a range from Chihuahua to Great Dane finds archaeologists looking to geneticists, and they may be sorry they did. Geneticists surmise that domestication may stretch back as far as 100,000 years or more. Archaeologists only have skeletal clues that trace back 12,000 years. Back to the digs?

Another experiment showed that dogs can see photo representations of objects and retrieve those objects, another, that nature wins over nurture and the dog is not a socialized wolf, rather dogs are a result of domestication. A breeding experiment to find out what it would take to domesticate a fox is surprising, and part of this experiment is even shocking – you’ll have to watch (since you can’t, not right away anyway, I’ll tell you – a mere 8 generations!)

A radical and thought provoking statement in the film regarding dog domestication was of it’s “pivotal” effect on human life “dogs absolutely turned the tables. Without dogs, humans would still be hunter-gatherers… civilization would not have been possible.” What we change, also changes us.

How do you see your dog now?

Here’s a teaser with the link below to the (53 minutes) show. (Ah…apparently they took it back. Something’s amiss over at PBS, but here’s the link to Dogs Decoded. The video is currently unavailable – but there is a text drop down for the entire episode just under the program description Thanks to Edie Jarolim for the heads up! )

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

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11 comments
Doggy Dish
Doggy Dish

Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful and inspirational story! I am a proud puppy owner and reading blogs like these really make me appreciate my puppy even more. Good day, and good dog!

Chris Dignan
Chris Dignan

Hey Mary, I never really bought into the wolf model anyway. They do share some similarities and probably a common ancestor but the lines, as you pointed out, diverged a very long time ago. People who buy into the pack mentality, in my opinion, have it wrong when considering the human dog relationship. Humans aren't dogs and dogs aren't humans. The "pack leader" mentality works well with conspecifics but relationships are different between interspecific groups. I haven't heard of people who work with lions wanting to be the "pride leader" and I know that people who work with whales and dolphins have no desire to be the "pod leader". The alpha and dominance aspect is even more troubling because people automatically equate dominance with aggression and punishment. thanks for the post! I'll go and watch decoded and come back later:)

@sleepydogwood
@sleepydogwood

it is on Netflixs, for those that have Netflixs.

Mel
Mel

Another good post Mary. I watched Dogs Decoded and found it fascinating. I particularly like when they talked about our flawed belief surrounding packs, pack theory and wolfs in comparison to dogs. The fox study was fascinating and a bit hard to watch (it reminded me too much of puppy mills), but the outcome was even more amazing. Truly. I think your comment "What we change, also changes us." is so spot on. I think I'm going to use that one if you don't mind. :)

jan
jan

We can never repay dogs for what they have done for us through the centuries. We would probably still be living in caves, trapped by our own garbage. :-)

Kristine
Kristine

Thank you for posting this. I've heard about this but wasn't sure if it would be available online. I'm going to make some popcorn and watch the video tonight. All of these recent discussions have been enlightening. There is still so much we don't know and so much we think we know that may be wrong.

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