Canine Behaviour

There are many misconceptions regarding canine behaviour coupled with dubious claims regarding the “scientific” basis of theories often based on personal prejudices and misdirected ethical considerations rather than firm evidence.   This page attempts to briefly summarise the scientific evidence.  More detailed discussion with referenced source material will be added soon.

Myth:  Your dog is a wolf in your living room

Evidence:  The ancestry of the domestic dog dates back over 30,000 years.   Over 10,000 generations of selective breeding have led to animals which, irrespective of breed, are radically different from their wolf forebears.

Myth:  Wolves live in packs headed by a dominant pack leader.

Evidence:  This view came from studies of closed groups in animal parks where adolescents are unable to leave the group.  Studies of wolves in the wild have shown that they live in family groups, with adolescents at the point of adulthood leaving to form new family groups rather than challenging their parents for leadership.

Myth:  As wolves live in packs which have a leader and dogs are like wolves, a dog owner must be pack leader.

Evidence:  Wolves do not live naturally in packs and wolves are different from dogs. Therefore the evidence does not directly support this view.  However, as dogs are different from wolves the possibility remains that dogs may need a human pack leader.

Myth:  A dog owner does not need to be pack leader.

Evidence:  while the biological evidence to suggest a dog needs a pack leader is not clear cut, the UK Dangerous Dogs act clearly requires that  owners control their dogs i.e. there is a legal obligation to act as pack leader.

Myth:  Dogs will challenge their owners to attain a leadership role i.e. they will attempt to dominate and may use aggressive tactics to this end.

Evidence:  there is little direct evidence to support the view that dogs actively seek to act as a pack leader.  Similarly, while one individual may be seen as dominant over another this is usually only under specific circumstances.

Myth: dominant dogs can behave aggressively to defend their status.

Evidence:  It is normally the owner that challenges the dog, not vice versa.   Like us, Dogs prefer to do what they choose to do.  If their preferred action is different from what we want, or need, them to do we are effectively challenging them.  In the case of a highly confident dog this challenge has the potential to result in an aggressive response.

Implications for rearing and training to follow….