Canine history and behaviour
Evolution of the dog
Our dog's closest related ancestor is the grey wolf however the wolf and dog are both direct descendants of many creatures that have evolved over many millions of years. Over 60 million years ago Creodonts evolved into a dog like creature called Miacis which evolved into Cynodictis then Cynodesmus and eventually Tomarctus around 15 million years ago. The dog then branched independently from this ancestry and the wolf stayed a direct ancestor
Wolf packs are family units with a ranking system based on acceptance and led by the Alpha male dominating where necessary mainly in feeding and mating and
challenging opponents with aggression only in disagreement.
Wolf ancestry can help us explain common behaviour such as body language as
well as chase instinct and territorial behaviour.
The oldest fossil found that is believed to be of a dog was 14000 years old.
Thousands of years ago brave dog like creatures began living and scavenging around humans, benefiting by hunting less and having plenty of food and passing on these traits to the next generation. Over time their physiology changed from a hunting dog into the genetic origin of the dog. They essentially started the domestication themselves but by controlling their human integration, their behaviour and their appearance for different purposes and varied breeds they were officially domestication by humans.
Dogs developed from a sub species of wolves and evolved and learned to
scavenge in our villages and farms, eventually the less fearful formed relationships
with man, as we provided a food source and were beneficial to them they chose to
stay close to humans and started become domesticated.
Different breeds of dogs emerged from different uses of dogs by man but the
external influences that effected them were climate, geology, predators and
parasites. These also would have effected their physical structure, coats and sizes
and caused the extinction of some of the breeds.
*No modern day breeds existed in Ancient Rome only the genetic ancestry was in
*There were 6 dog breeds in Roman times -Villatici, Pastorales Pecuarii, Venatici,
Pugnaces and Bellicosi, Nares Sagaces and Pedibus Celeres.
*All breeds have a mixture of dna from many different breeds
*Sydenham Edwards was the 1800s author of Cynographia Britannica and one of
the featured breeds is Canis Sanguinarius -British Blood-Hound
*There is no fossil evidence to suggest the the dingo was in Australia before the
land masses divided so it didn’t exist there 12,000 years ago.
Dog breeds such as spaniels are good for tracking scents and covering a lot of ground so may be bred by us especially as search and rescue dogs.
Cocker spaniels can get bored and at home without stimulation or enough exercise, they don’t like being alone and they may not relax and may become reactive to other dogs passing, doorbells or barking at people at the door as well as a possible aggression towards children.
This is dependent on the individual temperament of the dog and if it’s of a working line of spaniels.
Dogs that are bred to be slim and fit for enduring long distance running and biting or retrieving such as Greyhounds, Beagles or Ridgebacks have been bred for hunting purposes.
Dogs such as collies that have good long distance vision, stalk and have intense concentration on their prey but are gentle enough for herding and bred for use on farms to assist farmers to round up cattle without harming the animals.
Collies were originally bred from landrace Collies specifically as herding dogs in late 19th century and there are now many other varieties of Collies. What we know as sheepdog are a relatively recent breed but still look the same and are used for their traditional purpose still today. so their drives are strong. They were bred to herd and chase, a modified version of their natural predatory behaviours which are hunting, grabbing, and killing their prey as their ancestors instinctiveley did in the wild. The hunting drive will become apparent and they will become unruly if their skills are not put to good use so they are just doing what comes naturally to them when triggered by a moving person or object, they will chase and nip it.
Collies require a lot of time as they are bred to work so may need lots of exercise and a job to keep them occupied. Not recommended as a first time dog although they are easy to train, they will become unruly if their skills are not used for the intended purpose for which they were bred.
West Highland Terrriers
Westies can be a high energy dog and needs a fair amount of exercise. They have a high prey drive so like to run off and hunt. Although they could be good with children they can be intolerant of rough handling and could be aggressive as they are highly reactive and have medium trainability so they are not the best choice of breed for low energy owners with a young child.
Are thought to have been around since 2000-5000 years ago and were companions to Chinese nobles, they were originally bred to pull dog sleds and used to guard, haul and hunt. Their ancestors were thought to be a food source for humans.
Shar Pei's, one of the oldest dog breeds.They need a lot of socialisation and can be aloof but loyal to their original trainer. They become attached to them as they get older and aren’t easily trained by anyone else. They can be aggressive with new people and other dogs because of their guarding instincts.
Originating in China around 2,000 years ago and were bred for hunting and dog fighting. Their loose skin is too tough to bite through which meant they could fight whilst being bitten. Todays version of this unusual breed looks quite different but are usually used as guard dogs and can be aggressive.
Shar Pei's are prone to health and skin problems and can be stubborn so need lots of training. They are loyal and loving pets but could be very protective and aggressive. They are still used for fighting in Tibet. They are not recommended to a first time owner purely because of their history.
The Labrador is a happy, low reactive, sociable and well rounded dog that has little aggression and is good with children. They don’t need too much exercise, they are intelligent and a highly trainable dog with a good appetite ideal for training. They are confident and calm in most environments, calm and well behaved at home and their breed instincts only makes them playful and good at retrieving toys for their owners.
The Presa Canario is a banned dog from the Canary Islands. It is a large muscular Mastiff like dog originally used as cattle dogs and then for dog fighting. They were used to kill the wild dogs that were killing cattle and because of the damage they caused themselves the possession of these dogs was banned from anyone who wasn’t a hunter or farmer. They need early socialisation and a lot of training otherwise they can be aggressive with new people and other dogs.
According to the kennel clubs categories only utility dogs and possibly toy breeds would ideally make a suitable pet for a family. They are varied breeds that don’t fit in the working categories as they are less driven or bred mainly as companions. The working breeds, hounds, gun dogs, terriers and herding breeds could all be highly driven, energetic and need a lot of stimulation and training.
The Prey Drive
The ‘prey drive’ is the instinct to hunt and kill prey in predatory animals. They will search, stalk, chase, bite, kill and consume their prey triggered by their raw survival instincts.
In dogs the prey drive is still evident in their fascination of chasing squirrels and scooters.
The term ‘drives’ in dogs is used to describe their primordial natural desires and are the motivation for the dogs instinctual behaviours. These are genetic innate urges that originate from the dogs predatory ancestry and cannot be repressed. The drives seen in all dogs are essential for survival and reproduction, the main one being the desire to chase and hunt for food, the ‘prey drive’. This can still be seen in dogs today although some dogs have stronger drives than others depending on their genes, especially specific working breeds. Although drives are inbred they can still be influenced by a dogs environment and experiences. Instinct is also the reason why dogs are social, mark their territory and know how to nurse thier young without it being learned.
Dogs are not bad, we domesticated dogs over thousands of years. They were predatory and they have instinctive drives which they needed to survive. Although they don’t need these behaviours anymore they are instinctive and genetically passed down so they cannot be extinguished. I think dog owners generally have the best interested for their pets but don’t always understand their drives or know how to manage their behaviours. It’s easy to see how a dog can become ‘disobedient’ when they are actually displaying instinctive behaviours or completely distracted by them or displaying misplaced behaviour because of a lack of stimulation to express their natural behaviours to fulfil their physical and emotional needs.
Dogs are very sociable creatures, they enjoy meeting new people and other dogs, this is vital for dogs to live in packs which aided their survival in the wild and into domestication.
Barking & Communication
Forms of communication in dogs are important for them to be able to communicate to each other and us. Thier auditory repetoir includes whines and whimpers, howls and barks to indicate danger or distress. Thier visual signals are many forms of body language from mouth to tail. Olfactory signals uses their sense of smell to communicate by using their scent glands to pass on information to each other.
Dog's still retain part of their hunting instinct and their eyesight was perfected through hunting and can still pin point and accurately target close, fast moving objects. Now most breeds are ineffective hunters but still possess some of their original skills and instincts to chase and grab.
Fly ball is great exercise and can be a great hobby for high energy dogs especially ones that are ball crazy and good at retrieving, it covers the chase and grab instinct and is fast, fun and competitive and once trained and encouraged in these circumstances dogs will excel in their abilities and won’t seek to direct their drives elsewhere such as in scooter chasing.
Canine Search and Rescue Groups train their dogs to track scents weekly in wide open areas and forests covering lots of ground, this is also a good activity for dogs that need long walks, it could be used to redirect the squirrel chasers as dogs are instead given a persons clothing scent to track and they are ‘working’ with their owners.
Agility is another hobby perfect for dogs who need a purpose, they get to exert all their energy running around, through, under and over obstacles at high speed directed by their owners. This is fairly challenging fun and keeps the dogs fit, the mind occupied and its also helping form a stronger bond with the owner from the training. All these activities are available locally around most towns and are physically and mentally stimulating for dogs and fun for both the dogs and owners as well as being helpful to dogs socialisation skills.
The advantages of a dog being a social animal other than the benefits of survival in a pack is that they will generally enjoy the company of other dogs and humans, sometimes even completely different species which helps us with keeping different pets that get along. Unfortunately dogs are unpredictable and can run off and ignore commands when distracted by meeting and greeting other animals especailly when dogs are of higher value than humans
Communication through body language is very helpful to humans and can tell us a lot if we learn to understand it but can also cause problems where negetive body language is recipricated. Barking can be useful but constant barking is a nuisance to us and some dogs will repetitively bark out of frustration
Dogs eyesight is attuned to targetting moving objects, we can use this hunting/chasing instinct to encurouge them to play and chase balls and frisbee's but their eyesight is not as good with far away objects from them and is also dependent on colour. The disadvantages to an owner are if they see a fast moving animal they
may give chase and maybe even grab and injure it or become confused when losing sight of us from afar.
All these behaviours apply to adult dogs and puppies, some of these behaviours apply from puppyhood and some or all will develop later on. I hope this will give you some insite into natural behaviours and help you understand and train your dog from a puppy.
Upon greeting other dogs, some dogs (specifically puppies) will use mouth and face licking on other dogs as a calming signal.
A German Shepherd might communicate to a Rottweiler to stop pushing his luck by suddenly barking at him. Itwould be a non aggressive but sudden display of dominance such as when an adult tells off a puppy.
Social behaviour is important to dogs because being part of a social group insured the survival of the species and the ranking systems which determined who held what role. This pack mentality and behaviour is still engrained in todays domestic dogs, who find it beneficial to be sociable with other dogs and use it to communicate with one another to form these relationships and also to intergrate themselves with humans.
What we see as dog aggression forms only one part of a dogs ability to communicate with us or each other. We class this threatening behaviour as aggression but to a dog it's their best form of defence at avoiding unpleasant situations and usually only used as a last resort after previous signs or calming signals have not worked unless, the dog thinks its the only solution that will work. Most of the time warning signals will be communicated first when a dog is unhappy through body language but can often go unseen by us. This can be shown through tail tucking, teeth baring, ears back or growling and it is usually a reaction to fear. Then aggression will be used towards us or each other to manage being scared or threatened.
Not all dogs will use aggression but all dogs are capable when pushed far enough and if they have learnt that it has worked previously it will more likely be used as a quick solution.
No particular breeds are more likely to be aggressive but some dog breeds have been bred inherently more reactive and these dogs can be trained to react to certain 'threats' with aggression.