January 24, 2020

Bases of canine behaviour

Dr. Ricardo Luis  Bruno
Matr. Profesional 6170
Reg. Municipal Cdad B.Aires 1345

Basically, the behaviour of an animal is the result of many different variables such as genetic factors, early life experiences, learning process, physiological conditions and environmental stimuli.

Basically, the behaviour of an animal is the result of many different variables such as genetic factors, early life experiences, learning process, physiological conditions and environmental stimuli.

The features of the behaviour of an animal are the result of the interaction between the genetic programme and the environment. Animal behaviour has a genetic and an environmental component.

Each species has specific behavioural patterns that could be considered normal. When animals live in their natural habitat, they fully develop these patterns which adapt to the environment through early life experiences and the learning process.
It is important to distinguish between normal behaviour and abnormal or non adaptive behaviour.

To learn about normal canine behaviour, we must look back to the origin of dogs. It is well known that wolfs are the only predecessors of dogs –in fact, the Asian grey wolf, not the Nordic wolf. In genetic comparisons, both wolves and dogs show the same number of chromosomes (78) whilst foxes have 36. Therefore, when we speak about the behaviour of wolves, we are talking about the basic behaviour of dogs. Likewise, the behaviour of primates has similarities with the behaviour of human beings.

The first dogs originated from the domestication of wolves about 12,000 years ago. Presently, dogs and wolves are different species, but their behaviour has the same basic patterns.

Wolves are a gregarious, highly sociable species, with a rigid and complex social organization. They jointly raise their puppies, they hunt in cooperation using group hunting techniques; each member of the group has a defined role and they comply with it to perfection; obviously, this requires a strict hierarchical order.
They have a pyramidal social organization, with a leader, Alpha, followed by Beta, Gamma, Delta, etc. This dominance-subordination relationship changes according to circumstances; under the leader, some animals can dominate other animals, that is why there is a pyramidal and not a linear order.

Among females, there is a hierarchical order, which does not interfere with that of males but they are all subordinate to the Alpha wolf. (Presently, the role of females in the group hierarchy is being revised).

The only animals that mate are the dominant male and female; the other females are not served, even if they are on heat. The whole group, as a community, raise and feed the pups; in some cases, non-pregnant females show pseudopregnancy and they turn into wet nurses for pups when the mother is out hunting. During these hunting trips, wolves travel up to 25 or 28 miles in search of prey.

It is clear that a social system like that of wolves requires good communication, special behavioural patterns and a hierarchical order respected by all the members.
Communication, which is so important, is established trough gestures, attitudes, postures and specific behavioural patterns. The most significant ones are the posture as well as the threatening and aggressive attitudes, which take place when a subordinate animal confronts one with a higher position; if victorious, the confronting animal gets a better place in the social order and the hierarchies are reversed. It is very important to take this point into account, as domestic dogs may present the so-called dominance-related aggression, one of the most frequent and dramatic changes in canine behaviour.

Submission is another important type of behaviour and it is shown by pups before adults and by subordinate animals facing dominant ones with a view to calming down their aggression.

Submissive animals crawl, wag their tail and discharge little amounts of urine when big animals arrive.

There are many examples similar to these and they show that wolves as well as their descendants –domestic dogs— are highly sociable animals and they present the following behavioural characteristics:
• They spend 80% of their time in close contact with the members of the group.
• They respect the hierarchical order; nevertheless, it can be modified through force and aggression.
• They have an athletic body adapted to long walks.

It is essential to take these concepts into account in order to understand canine behaviour. In 80% of the cases in which domestic dogs present changes in their behaviour, they are acting according to inherited behavioural patterns specific to their species.

As an example, we can consider dogs that live with a human family, which becomes their social group. People do not usually share 80% of their time with their dogs and, even worse, they do not pay much attention to them when they are together. This produces frustration and/or stress to the animals, and they misbehave as a way to channel their dissatisfaction and anxiety. When this happens, people usually scold or punish their animals and this, in turn, reinforces bad behaviour as dogs prefer to be punished rather than ignored. This results in a negative cycle between them.
Finally, and in order to complete this brief report about the main specific canine behavioural patterns, we must refer to the early stage of a dog’s life. This is a very important period from the behavioural point of view and it is different from behavioural patterns in adult life.

Domestic puppies present four well-defined stages during their behavioural development.
• The first or neonatal stage takes the first two weeks and it consists mainly in suckling and sleeping.
• The second or transitional stage goes from 14 to 21 days of life and it consists in exploring the habitat and experimenting with motor functions.
• The third or socialization period is the most important one. It stretches from the 3rd to the 12th weeks of life. During this stage, puppies continue developing their motor functions while they start establishing specific behavioural patterns and shaping their personalities. They begin to interact among themselves in a playful way fighting, growling and pulling objects. They learn about “jaw pressure” (if they bite too hard while playing, the bitten puppy finishes the play immediately and the one that has bitten learns that the pressure has been excessive). They carry things in their mouth, they scuffle for bones, etc. If a curious pup observes something and goes towards it, the rest of the litter follows it, and this is the beginning of coordinated activity in the group. Towards the sixth week, specific adult actions appear: facial, inguinal, anal and genital contact together with pelvic movements and mounting acts. Male dogs increase these activities as they approach puberty. Coordinated attack games against weaker littermates also take place.
During the socialization stage, an individual learns to recognize and accept different animal species. During this time some changes in behavioural patterns occur and it is difficult to correct them in adulthood. If a dog is not in contact with children during this period, it will probably not accept them when he grows up. By the same token, if a young animal does not interact with other dogs or with cats, it may be frightened of or aggressive with them. Obviously, unsocial dogs and their owners suffer the negative consequences of this behaviour.
It is also important to note that during this stage pups start to develop their capacity to quickly relate behavioural patterns and stimuli; therefore, this is the right time to teach them where to urinate, who to obey, etc. Obviously, the pup’s negative experiences lead to bad socialization. Thus, the veterinarian who tends to pups must try to make the first visits to the veterinary room the least unpleasant.
• The fourth or juvenile stage comes next. Animals explore their surroundings most actively. They have already created social ties, they have learnt typical behavioural patterns and they start exploring their world. During this period, it is necessary to occasionally reinforce socialization to make sure that dogs do not forget what they have already learnt.