Predator V Pet - Wolf V Dog

Vanessa Almeida da Silva Amorim

Predator V Pet - Wolf V Dog

Dogs: wolves in a sheepskin?

Dogs are wonderful creatures. There is something about the twinkle in their eyes that makes them such a unique species. Like no other animal they have successfully found new ways to function in our human-made world. However their presence is not always filled with joy and happiness. As much as dogs seem to enjoy spending time with humans they still need us to treat them with the respect and handling that is appropriate to their nature.  Some dog owners are lucky enough to never have considerable trouble with their dogs. Often these owners share a strong and pleasurable relationship with their pet. An increasing number of dog owners though have found themselves struggling with their pooch. Cesar Millan has gained considerable popularity in his TV show “the Dog Whisperer” where he trains dogs based on the idea that they are much like wolves. As much as we enjoy watching Cesar Millan perform his magic on dogs the real question is: Does it take a wolf to understand a dog? In his book “In defence of dogs” J. Bradshaw writes: “the key to understanding the domestic dog is, first and foremost, understanding the domestic dog.” Unwillingly by applying comparative zoology scientists have caused some damage to both wolves and dogs. Cesar Millan is not the only dog trainer using this philosophy.  In fact, a considerable amount of other dog trainers base their training method on the idea that dogs are much like wolves. Wolves and dogs share 99% of their DNA so yes, genetically they are almost identical. However when observing the behaviour of these two species it is evident that they behave different in a number of ways. This makes sense because dogs live in a very different environment than wolves. To date scientists have not been able to complete the evolutionary puzzle of both wolves and dogs. Debating and speculation continues about whether dogs descended directly from wolves or if there was a common ancestor that gave origin to both species separately.  So far no-one has been successful in proving that wild wolves can be turned into domesticated house dogs. The closest anyone has come to proving this theory is Dimitri Belyaev. Fifty years ago he started an experiment with silver foxes to explore the domestication process. The silver foxes used in Belyaev’s experiment are selected based on their behaviour, the friendliest and tamest are selected and paired for reproduction. The result, after a few generations is a group of foxes that not only behaves very different from their wild cousins but also looks very different. The domesticated foxes present wide variation in fur coat colours and some individuals presented a curled tail and floppy ears, much like our domesticated dogs. However, the only thing this experiment proves is that a “new” sort of animal can be created from an existing animal. So I think it is right to state that it is not because two animals are genetically related that we can assume that the behaviour of one is comparable to the behaviour of the other. In dog training settings owners are often taught to maintain a leader position at all times. Without a strong leader a dog will feel that it needs to try to take over the leading position. This vision is based on what is now considered to be an outdated interpretation on how a wolf pack functions. At first it was assumed that wolves are constantly fighting for a leader position within a wolf pack. This conclusion came forth by observation on wolf packs in captivity. In captivity a wolf pack is not set up in the same way as in the wild. Today scientists have come to the conclusion that wolf packs function more like a family. An alpha pair gives gestation to a litter and assumes the leading role towards their progeny. Within wolf packs there is a clear structure and hierarchy much like it is in human families.  Healthy family relationships are built upon trust and respect. Children trust their parents to take care of them both physically and emotionally. Parents get respect from their children when they invest in knowing who their children are and direct them rather than oppress them. The greatest damage that came forth from that old-school wolf pack theory is exactly that. Imposing leadership upon dogs rather than earning it took the joy out of the dog-human relationship. Owners are told to maintain their leadership role at all cost. So what does that mean? Leadership comes forth from respect. Someone needs to take charge of the group to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Just like in human-human relationships respect is something you earn by accepting and respecting others.  Owners that expect easy straight forward answers when it comes to training their dogs should bury that idea and realise that it is a process not a method. There is no manual that tells you how a dog works. In the end it comes down to parenting the dog. Just like parenthood over small children it is a question of setting boundaries without compromising the integrity of the dog and picking battles. 



  • BRADSHAW, J., In defence of dogs. Why dogs need our understanding, Allen Lane, 2011, 324 p., ISBN: 978-1-846-14295-6
  • MIKLOSI, A., Dog evolution, cognition and behaviour, 
  • HARDIN, C.D., CONLEY T.D., A relational approach to cognition: shared experience and relationship affirmation in social cognition, University of California, 2001, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 476 p., ISBN: 0-8058-3414-1
  • SERPELL, J., Pet keeping and animal domestication: a reappraisal, University of Pennsylvania, 1989, 11 p. this article is part of the book: CLUTTON-BROCK, J., The walking Larder, patterns of domestication, pastoralism and predation, One World, 1989, 254 p., 





Universiteit of Hogeschool
Agro- en Biotechnologie afstudeerrichting: dierenzorg
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