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How dogs were “domesticated”

I mentioned this on the “My training methods” page of this site, and my facebook page, but wanted to share this clip I just found about the fox experiments Demitri Balyaev did in the 50’s that completely revolutionized the thinking about how dogs came to be:

It used to be thought that early man had raised wolf pups and “tamed them” and created dogs. But I have a good friend who works with Wolf Park in Indiana that DID raise a wolf pup in her home and she can tell you THEY ARE NOT DOGS and how they are raised does not change that.

But Demitri’s studies shed light on just how wolves COULD have changed into dogs. By showing that breeding animals with a reduced flight response to scary stimuli, with that being the only criteria used for selection of breeding pairs, within as few as 10 generations, the foxes became MUCH more dog-like in their behavior. Friendly, attention seeking, barking. AND they began to LOOK more like dogs, with piebald coats, curly tails and floppy ears.

Switched at birth

And it’s not just nurture. Pups from friendly parents were raised from their birthday with a parent and siblings with fearful/aggressive temperaments and they maintained their friendly demeanor. And pups from fearful parents raised in a litter of friendly pups remained fearful/aggressive.

From Wolves to Dogs

So it is now theorized that once humans became less nomadic and would settle in an area long enough to have a trash dump, that wolves would feed at those trash sites. And wolves that didn’t run away as fast or as far got more food. When they bred with others that had the same low flight response, their behavior and appearance no doubt changed. And it was those friendlier early dogs that man domesticated and has changed into all the varieties we see today.

Behavior is genetic

And it is why the underlying, natural behavior of the parents and grandparents of your puppy are so important.  They don’t pass along the training that was put in to change a fearful/aggressive response into something more manageable.  They will pass on the genetics of that original natural behavior. And fearful behavior is strongly passed on, likely because it goes back to a primal survival function that worked to keep wild wolves and dogs safe from unfamiliar things.

For more details on this theory, check out the book:

Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger

We already know that behavior traits can and often are passed from parents to puppies. How often have you heard “oh, that pups mom/dad does that too!” and in some cases, you can tell a pups pedigree based on his/her behavior or quirks.

Record Keeping

I think behavior is just as critical as health testing and structure assessments. My own theory is that breeders should have records, testing, and ideally video proof of how the dogs in their breeding program responded to novel sights, sounds, and handling when they were still very young (8-9 weeks of age). Breeding only the dogs that did really well on puppy temperament tests could result in off spring that would be super stable and friendly. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the results if all breeders did such testing and kept such records!


About dazzlesmom

Dog Mom, Reward-based Dog Trainer, Former Police Officer, Author, Speaker, Martial Artist, Traveler, Instructor.

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