Domestic dog?

Susan's picture

 I've been listening to the SPARCS seminar. Just a little bit here and there as I've worked most of the weekend. SPARCS stands for: Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science.

This stuff is fascinating and the panel of great dog experts is presenting all sorts of great research that they have performed in the quest to better understand the dogs that we live with today.

There is huge controversy about what our domestic dog really is and how long dogs have actually been "domesticated". Did todays family dog descend from the wolf or some other canid species? Was it thousands of years ago or as recently as a few hundred years ago? Does/should breed define a dog? How does nutrition affect cognition?

Todays thoughts have led me to ask a question of my own experiences as a trainer. What is natural canine behavior? I already have an opinion about some things and thats what I want to talk about here. I get calls all the time from folks wanting to change or correct behaviors that they find unacceptable. So what behaviors are we fixing and why?

What is natural to the species and should we be "fixing" it or are there ways to make natural behaviors more acceptable through management?

Example: dog gets into waste basket.

Behavior: Foraging/scaveging

Is it natural for dogs to scavage/hunt for food? YES!

Is it desirable in domestic dog? Not from the owners standpoint!

But wait, didn't we domesticate the dog to assist us in finding food, Once upon a time?

Next common owner complaint: Dog begs or steals food from counter.

Behavior: foraging/scaveging

Where do we feed our dogs and how?

Answer: from a bowl on the kitchen floor.

So we invite the beast into our house and feed him for free in the room that we store our food and then, We get upset when he hunts around? Think about that for a minute!

Here is my thought on this: There is NO reason that a domesticated dog needs to eat for free from a fancy dish on the floor of our kitchen. If you MUST feed the dog anyway, wouldn't they be happiest WORKING for the food? Isn't working for dinner the most natural behavior for any canid species?

What? Working for food? Well, jumping on the counter to steal your sandwich is work from the dogs point of view. His wild ancestors would never expend that much energy, unless there was a huge reward to take back to the den.

How can we make the dog work in our favor? Well,some of it is basics, SIT, DOWN, STAY, COME. Some is just fun, ROLLOVER, SHAKE HANDS, JUMP THROUGH A HOOP. There are dozens of FUN ways your average dog can earn a living and getting a handful of kibble for it probably makes the dog happy too. Isn't it also rewarding for us humans to give the dog a treat? Relationship building!

What else? Scaveging & hunting behaviors. How do you replicate that?  Food puzzles & Scent work!

Oh, and to those that worry about the dog becoming dependent on food, HELLO?? aren't we ALL dependent on food for survival????!