Search This Blog

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dog societies closest to humans'

According to this researcher in Hungary, dog social behavior most mirrors humans, more than chimps, gorillas, meerkats, whatever.

He believes that we should study dog culture to better understand humans. I am all for it, and completely agree with his findings. However, I think he and other dog researchers need to make it super-clear why dogs are so similar...because we essentially bred them to be.

First, yes, dogs adapted to us (nonconclusively, but their bones have been found near human archaeological sites as old as 40,000 years or more). But now, for the domestic dog their social structure is dependent on us, in a way.

I think studing the wild relatives - coyotes, wolves, wild dogs - provides a more independent understanding of social predator lifestyles outside of humans, if that's what you're going for. If you're looking for "a mirror into humanity," but in a somewhat look-what-we-can-do sort of way, then sure.

Jozsel Topal, lead author of the study, says that by studying humans, dogs, and wolves together we can triangulate findings about social predator behaviors. The article also quotes Marc Hauser as saying that dogs' evolution being manipulated by humans over the years is a good thing to study and provides insight into how we evolved. But we have to remember that dogs became dogs because their ancestors ALREADY were social creatures who had society structures.

To me it feels like unless you're studying packs of feral dogs, it's like studying a goldfish in a tank and trying to figure out how a koi fish acts in a large pond. You have to acknowledge the co-dependence.

I think studying dog behavior is important. In fact I would LOVE to study dog behavior for a living. But my hang up is saying that dog societies are the most like humans' societies, without stipulating that we MADE them that way, is careless at best.

1 comment:

Dana said...

Hi, Beth!

I'm infinitely interested in dog behavior too.

Are you familiar with Jean Donaldson's body of work? Reading her book Culture Clash was a life changing experience for me.

She's the founder of the San Fransisco SPCA Dog Training Academy. My understanding is that she's currently in an a Evo Devo Ph.D program.

Here's one of her blog posts re: wolf/dog packs.

http://jeandonaldson.com/jeans-blog-mainmenu-51/64-are-dogs-pack-animals

Another article by Jean.
http://www.urbandawgs.com/divided_profession.html

David Mech's research article:
http://www.mnforsustain.org/wolf_mech_dominance_alpha_status.htm

dana~