Does Domestication Affect Dogs' Natural Behavior?
While Scruffy may have been domesticated 15,000 years ago, he may still retain several ancestral behaviors reminiscent of his past. Walking in circles before sleeping and hiding bones are examples of ancient behaviors that today appear to serve no purpose. Interestingly, domestication has also caused several natural canine behaviors to be drastically morphed for the convenience of humankind.
Modified Prey Sequence
Before Scruffy was fed dry kibble straight from a bag, hunting and killing was his way of life if he wanted to survive. Successful hunters adhered to a precise predatory sequence that involved searching, stalking, chasing, catching, biting, killing and then eating. Domestication, along with selective breeding, has dramatically changed the sequence and level of prey drive among various breeds. For instance, some hunting dogs have been bred for having "a soft mouth" so to retrieve and deliver quarry intact and in good condition without biting down, while herding dogs were bred to herd sheep without injuring or killing them.
Sensitivity to Human Cues
Wild animals seem to naturally lead their own solitary lives without relying on humans. With dogs, it's a whole different story. If your dog seems to be in tune with your moods more than any human in your life, you must thank the process of domestication. Sensitivity towards human actions may have occurred because of a dog's social imprinting to humans during the critical period of social development, alongside a history of reinforcement for responding to cues, according to a study published in the May 2010 issue of Biological Reviews.
Retention of Juvenile Traits
The domestic dog may be a subspecies of the grey wolf, but many behaviors are quite different from their wild progenitor. For instance, domesticated dogs retain juvenile behaviors such as whining and exhibiting submissiveness, all traits that wolves naturally outgrow as they mature. This retention of juvenile traits is known as pedomorphosis and also includes the retention of morphological juvenile characteristics such as floppy ears, broad skulls, shortened muzzles and large eyes.
If your neighbor's dog non-stop nuisance barking is driving you nuts, blame domestication. Wolves have a significantly lower range when it comes to vocal repertoire, while dogs have at least eight different barks including barking when left alone, upon encountering a territorial threat and when frightened or upset. Whether barking was used to convince a stubborn cow to move or alert humans about menacing predators so they could take appropriate action, barking has and continues to have a precise function and it is still useful to humans in many ways.
By Adrienne Farricelli
Pet Place: Predatory Aggression
Sirius Dog: Prey Behavior
Biological Reviews, What Did Domestication do to Dogs? A New Account of Dogs' Sensitivity to Human Actions; Monique A. R. Udell et al.
American Scientist: Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment
Wired: Humans Guided Evolution of Dog Barks
Biological Reviews: What did domestication do to dogs? (Udell, Dorey & Wynne, 2010)
Training Your Lab: Soft-Mouth Training for Labradors
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.