Mike the Mad Biologist

Dogs and Adaption to Humans

ResearchBlogging.org
In a good post about puppy mills, Amanda Marcotte made a good point about domesticated versus undomesticated pets (italics mine):

This would probably mean that people couldn’t get exotic pets, and that isn’t really the sort of thing that would keep me up at night, either. I understand the urge to have something like a pet ferret, but like with smoking, it’s an understandable urge that probably is best not indulged. Cats and dogs evolved to be our pets and want nothing more than to be our pets, thus they are the best choices for pets. They may not love every second of being a pet—going to the vet comes to mind as a moment they don’t love—but on the whole, what they want is to be a pet. If you’ve ever adopted a cat that was feral but is well-socialized, you’re probably familiar with how true this is. Even though my cat Molly only spent perhaps the first two months of her life as a feral kitten, she is clearly still haunted by the memory. When we had a backyard, I would let them hang out there under supervision, and while Dusty (who was never feral) was simply happy to go out, Molly wouldn’t go out unless I left the door open for her so that she could be assured that she could run back into the condo at any second. She was that afraid of ever going back to non-pet status again. If you want a pet, cats and dogs want to be your pet. It’s the simplest relationship in the world, and I see no reason to complicate it by insisting that the humble cats and dogs are too boring to be your pet.


I don’t think it’s just a matter of want: I can imagine that a wolf raised with humans for its entire life might not want to live ferally. Home is comfy after all. Hell, there are hippos which literally make themselves at home.

But an additional point is that dogs have evolved to live with humans. To a certain extent, a feral dog is like a philodendron in a desert. A life without some kind of human interaction, even if it’s just the occasional begging for scraps, is unnatural. Dogs, unlike wolves, have more ‘action inhibition’ than wolves–dogs have better impulse control (relatively speaking) enables cooperation with humans. Dogs and wolves that are similarly socialized are typically more attached to humans than wolves. In addition, wolves need far more training than dogs to comprehend what a person is trying to communicate with pointing.

Dogs are not ‘wild animals’ anymore: people are an integral part of their environment. Activists who think dog ownership, by itself, is cruel and who want to ‘liberate’ dogs don’t understand the biology.

UDELL, M., DOREY, N., & WYNNE, C. (2008). Wolves outperform dogs in following human social cues Animal Behaviour, 76 (6), 1767-1773 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.07.028

Cited articles: Gácsi M, Györi B, Virányi Z, Kubinyi E, Range F, Belényi B, & Miklósi A (2009). Explaining dog wolf differences in utilizing human pointing gestures: selection for synergistic shifts in the development of some social skills. PloS one, 4 (8) PMID: 19714197

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Thomerson
    July 22, 2010

    Nevertheless, I would still like to have a pet squirrel. My uncle was federal predator control agent down in the Rio Grand Valley. He told me feral dogs were the most difficult predator to control, and that dog x coyote hybrids were next. Perhaps dogs have some understanding of humans incorporated into their genes.

  2. #2 Ericb
    July 22, 2010

    I adopted a cat that had spent some of his adult life as a feral/stray. He was the most affectionate pet I’ve ever seen. He would follow me around the apartment and would always be waiting by the front door when I came home.

  3. #3 Coriolis
    July 22, 2010

    Yes but cats have been domesticated for a very long time (at least since ancient egyptian times, perhaps more). They are biologically different from their wilds ancestors and other non-domesticated species, even if they have spent some time “in the wild”.

  4. #4 Ms. Troy Lynn Eckart
    July 22, 2010

    Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years and rely completely on humans for their care and safety. Domestic ferrets make wonderful companion animals for the right people, people that are willing to do the ferret care research and put it into practice. Domestic ferrets are very energetic, happy, curious little clowns that require attentiveness to their surroundings from their people because they are also fearless and can easily get themselves into trouble. Remember the picture of the puppy with his head stuck through the fence hole? That would be a typical ferret stunt. Ferrets are misunderstood by many. They require several hours a day of exercise and socialization to be content, in a ferret-safe environment. They are attentive to their people and can easily learn tricks. They have excellent problem solving skills and can challenge their caretakers skills frequently. They are very emotional little beings and will bond closely to their people and other companion animals. All one has to do is observe their behavior and this becomes crystal clear. Domestic ferrets cannot survive in the wild as they do not possess hunting instincts. I’ve been working with ferrets since 1985 and the only thing I’ve seen them hunt is that tasty saucer of special made nutritional gruel or a bowl of kibble or water. I’ve seen and heard about the deadly results of those unfortunate little ones that have escaped or been dumped outdoors and not been found quickly.

  5. #5 Ericb
    July 22, 2010

    ‘Yes but cats have been domesticated for a very long time (at least since ancient egyptian times, perhaps more). They are biologically different from their wilds ancestors and other non-domesticated species, even if they have spent some time “in the wild”. ‘

    Um, yeah, that was what I was implying.

  6. #6 Tsu Dho Nimh
    July 22, 2010

    @4 …. They were domesticated and bred to hunt rats and mice. Turned loose in a rat-infested barn with a water source they might do quite well.

    I have seen them (big neutered males) used for pest control in feed mill warehouses, and they do a great job. They get petted, vet care and kibble.

    Ferrets also love to hunt crickets and other ground-dwelling insects.

  7. #7 Mokele
    July 22, 2010

    She’s full of shit, and has no idea what she’s talking about.

    Most of my pets aren’t domesticated. Most aren’t trained. They don’t love me – because they have brains the size of a rice grain, no emotions worth noting, and social interactions that consist entirely of either mating or cannibalism. Frankly, most of them are more like owning fish than owning ferrets, except I can take them out and interact with them if I wish.

    That doesn’t mean they receive anything less than optimal care in conditions far superior to any wild habitat. My cages are better than the ones at the local zoo, and my animals are healthier.

    Now, exotic *mammals* are a real problem, both in terms of usually sub-standard care and communicable diseases. Birds, too. But ectotherms are a whole different ballgame – they’re kept in totally different ways, with totally different expectations, for totally different reasons. I don’t expect my giant lizard to ‘cuddle’ with me, and the only way I’m getting a hug is if I’m stupid enough to reach into the boa cage while smelling like rabbits.

    That someone like Amanda lacks sufficient biological knowledge to appreciate animals beyond mere dogs & cats does not mean that those of us whose idea of “animal” is not restricted to “mammal” or “vertebrate” shouldn’t have our pets.

  8. #8 JohnV
    July 22, 2010

    My fish totally love me. Every morning they’re all swarming the front of the tank waiting for me and ever night when I get home from work they’re doing the same thing.

    Don’t anyone dare rain on my parade by suggesting they’re waiting for food.

  9. #9 Barb Carlson
    July 22, 2010

    You said: “Most of my pets aren’t domesticated. Most aren’t trained. They don’t love me – because they have brains the size of a rice grain, no emotions worth noting, and social interactions that consist entirely of either mating or cannibalism. Frankly, most of them are more like owning fish than owning ferrets, except I can take them out and interact with them if I wish.”

    Ferrets have a higher brain-to-body ratio than dogs and cats, and a brain most certainly larger than a rice grain. Where are you getting your information? You own ferrets? I find that hard to believe, with that kind of opinion.

    Ferrets *are* domesticated and have (provable) changes in physiology and behavior. They have been living around humans for a very long time … long enough that the word ferret comes from the Latin word meaning “little thief”. There is some disagreement about whether or not they go back as far as Egyptian times, but some scholars believe so.

    As for love and personality, you only get back what you put into a pet. If all you do is leave them in the cage, maybe let them run around the room and don’t interact with them, you’re not going to get as nice a pet as you would get if you spent time with them. Ferrets are perfectly capable of learning the meaning of many words, and even obeying. Heck, some lady trained her ferrets to do “heelwork” (dogs dancing with owners, going through legs, backing up, etc.).

    Ferrets see vets classed as exotic vets, but that’s really a misnomer. Snakes, iguanas, birds, ferrets, turtles, hunting birds … they would all go see a vet who specializes in exotics. In this case, “exotic” just means something beyond dogs and cats. Exotic can also just mean something different, new or unusual; out of the ordinary.

  10. #10 Mokele
    July 22, 2010

    Barb,

    Read my post. Actually *read* it, rather than skimming for the word “ferret”.

    I don’t have ferrets. I wasn’t talking about ferrets. Aside from one dog and a foster dog, everything I have has “cold blood”, and that quote applies perfectly well to them. Lizards do not feel love. Snakes cannot be trained (beyond extremely rudimentary learning). Frogs do not pair-bond. Turtles are not domesticated. Salamanders will never greet you at the door.

    My point, which you completely missed, is that a pet doesn’t *need* to be like a dog or a cat, or even like a mammal. What matters is that the animal can be kept in manner that allows it to thrive, and that its acquisition or presence is not a danger to the environment. Beyond that, it doesn’t even need a central nervous system, as many reef-tank owners will attest. Hell, I treat my plants like pets (especially since, like all of my pets, they’re carnivores).

  11. #11 Roland
    July 22, 2010

    I’m reading ‘Genome’ by Matt Ridley. One chapter is dedicated to genomic influence on behavior/instinct. Pg.106(paraphrased) Breeders have long known that one way to get tamer and less timid dogs is to choose the darkest pups. Then to humans: shy adolescents are more likely to be blue-eyed, tall, thin, nervous, etc. The ice age selected for those better able to withstand cold: high metabolic rate, sensitivity to norepinephrine. Just as in canines, shy and suspicious types are paler than bold types. Note: huskies are known for their blue eyes.

  12. #12 Lynxreign
    July 23, 2010

    @Mokele

    I read both your posts and went back to read the first one after you posted your second. I too thought you meant you had ferrets since you never state what pets you do have before stating they’re “more like fish than ferrets” and never mention ferrets before that. A logical conclusion is that your pets are ferrets, but don’t act like what people think ferrets act like.

    Perhaps you should work on making your writing more coherent before being so insulting to others who respond to you. Of course, your opening sentence is also incorrect, so perhaps the babbling in the rest of the post should be expected.

  13. #13 Mokele
    July 24, 2010

    Lynxreign – you failure to read an entire post does not indicate a failure on my part. Your reading skills are evidently so poor you cannot parse the phrases “my giant lizard” and “reaching into the boa cage” to infer that the poster owns a giant lizard and a boa.

    A six year old child could figure out what my post said. Your failures are entirely your own.

  14. #14 LOL
    November 3, 2010

    You guys are fucking stupid. I read Mokele’s post and understood what he meant. Dumbasses.

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