A Modern Dog's Life: How to Do the Best for Your Dog

A Modern Dog's Life: How to Do the Best for Your Dog

by Paul McGreevy PhD, MRCVS


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781615190188
Publisher: Experiment, The
Publication date: 05/18/2010
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Paul McGreevy, PhD, MRCVS, is one of three specialists in veterinary behavioral medicine recognized by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. A professor at Sydney University’s School of Veterinary Science, he has received the International Canine Health Lifetime Achievement Award.

Read an Excerpt


For the Love of Dog

Dogs and humans have evolved alongside one another over a long period of time, but all is not well in the Land of Dog. We breed dogs with negligible emphasis on temperament, even though problem behaviors are the main trigger for euthanasia in young dogs. We want dogs that are devoted to us but somehow expect them to cope when left alone. We persistently frustrate our canine companions by ignoring what they truly value. This book is about dogs' needs and how we can improve our understanding of dogs and how best to look after them in the twenty-first century. Drawing on the latest research and my expertise as a veterinary behaviorist who has spent a lifetime with dogs, my aim is to suggest a new approach to owning a dog. I hope to explain why dogs thrive on three key things: fun, exercise and training. Most importantly, I offer fresh ideas about how we, as dog owners, can help our dogs access these goodies.

Salman Rushdie described dogs as the "loving, half-comprehending, half- mystified aliens who live within our homes." A Modern Dog's Life looks at aspects of our behavior that are particularly mystifying to dogs and establishes why dogs may never comprehend some of our characteristics and tendencies. It also examines features of dog management that many owners struggle to get right — and sets out some blunt home truths about the realities of keeping a dog. Ultimately, A Modern Dog's Life is for anyone who wants to understand more and therefore demystify their dog. Its aim is to help you to become a better dog- watcher, team player, caregiver, companion and life-coach by knowing when and how to intervene.

This is not a book about the charm of dogs or the many ways of caring for them. There are hundreds of such books already out there. Instead, my premise is that owning a dog takes time and thought and is not always a pleasure. Despite figures pushed out annually by pet food manufacturers as they insist that pets are good for our health, we all know that dogs can also cause tremendous distress to humans around them, and not only to their owners. This book asks why dogs can be distressing and why they get distressed. It offers solutions to some common doggy dilemmas but does not shy away from the fact that many dogs lead less than ideal lives. In a sense then, this book is for those who strive to do the best for their dogs rather than those who need to get the best out of their dogs.

My aim with this book is to deliver insights and challenges that prompt you to reflect on your own dog's behavior. All the dogs you have shared time with offer examples of the concepts I describe. When exploring the unwelcome consequences of our actions on the welfare of dogs, I promise not to use the trite and inadequate remark: How would you like it? This is not useful because our chief challenge is to think like dogs rather than expect them to have the same sensitivities we have. My pledge is to avoid interpreting dog behaviors in human terms. Any statement suggesting that dogs are almost human is, for many dog enthusiasts, nothing short of an insult. In return, I encourage you to use my reflections to improve the lot of the dogs you know now or are yet to meet. This book gives dogs the benefit of the doubt (and of the latest research) when it comes to their feelings, but never assumes that they have human intelligence. Dogs have canine intelligence — for them, a far more useful attribute.

As we gather more information on dogs and their behavior, we begin to realize how much there is still to discover. Humans owe dogs a great deal, and vice versa. We have coevolved, exploiting one another to various degrees. Indeed, we continue to do so in novel ways that I note throughout this book.

What is "natural behavior" for a dog?

Dog keeping may be as old as hunting, grunting and cave painting, but studying domestic dogs in family homes is a complex business. Each dog's behavior and motivation may seem clear enough, but they usually reflect human differences. One family may lavish attention on their dog, while another virtually ignores theirs. One person within a family may be a great trainer, while another, within the same household, may be inconsistent or incompetent. If we want to understand dog behavior as clearly as possible, the most helpful observations come from populations of free-ranging dogs living in the wild, uncontaminated by direct contact with humans. No collars, no leashes, no bowls, no beds, no fences. Such dogs come from the same stock as our domesticated dogs but live separate from humans. Completely unpolluted data can be very difficult to obtain. Although free-ranging dogs tend to stay away from disruptive and dangerous human activity, they often are still affected by people. Even dogs living on a landfill can be influenced by the humans who deliver the rubbish, while those hiding in remote forests and undeveloped land can be disturbed by human activity at the boundaries of their territory. Dogs considered feral may have been dumped as pups and so are products of the human-dog interaction.

Traditionally, we have tended to regard the wolf as the perfect model of what dogs are like without human interference. To an extent, this is entirely valid, since we believe dogs evolved from wolves. The domestic dog is a subspecies of its ancestor, the gray wolf. Indeed, at times in the chapters that follow, I will refer to the gray wolf as Uncle Wolf as a nickname for the archetypal lupine forebear. And to save time, when offering examples of free-ranging or feral dog behavior, I shall refer to feral dogs as Feral Cheryl. The critical DNA sequences of the domestic dog differ from those of the gray wolf by only 0.2 percent. This means the two are very closely related and explains why they can interbreed. By contrast, the difference between the gray wolf and its closest wild relative, the coyote, is around 4 percent.

Given that dogs and wolves are virtually indistinguishable genetically, the enormous variation in body size and shape in the dog is truly remarkable. For example, whereas an adult wolf usually weighs around 100 pounds, an adult dog can weigh between 21/2 and 200 pounds (obesity can send this upper limit even higher — but more on that in chapter 6, Sex, Disease and Aging). The breadth of behavioral differences that accompany these variations is also extraordinary.

Although the wolf is a popular model for canine behavior, Australian dingoes are probably a better one. Sadly, they are under threat in their pure state, because there are now so few that have not been crossed with modern breeds. However, their behavior is more that of the unfettered dog than any wolf 's will ever be. Behaviorally, dingoes respond to their pack members in ways that are rarely evident in wolf packs. For example, adult dingoes play with one another far more than adult wolves; they vocalize more and are generally more flexible in their responses to strangers. In these ways they are typical of dogs. These behavioral differences are just the tip of the iceberg, since the assumption that all dogs behave the same way is as flawed as the notion that they all look the same. Breeds, after all, were originally the physical manifestation of the human desire to distill particular behavioral traits, often accompanied by recognizable shapes, color and coat lengths that can act as markers for those behaviors.

As we explore the science of dog behavior we must accept that much of what we think we know is still only speculation. It would surprise most dog owners to discover that academic animal behavior journals report many more studies on bees than on dogs. Why? The average person spends a great deal more time with dogs than with bees, so surely we need to know more about dog packs than bee swarms? Purists might argue that bees are more interesting than dogs to serious students of animal behavior (ethologists) because their behavior is less the product of human interference in the form of genetic selection and husbandry. It is almost as if familiarity has bred ignorance. Happily, I can report that domesticated species have recently become the focus of vigorous scientific study as the field of applied ethology emerges to help solve behavioral problems. The bad news is that, among the domestic species being studied, dogs are bringing up the rear because they are regarded as less important than more commercially productive species, such as pigs, cattle and chickens. Perhaps this is a small price to pay for dogs not being regarded as a food source in the Western world (although, with the advent of fusion cuisine, Chow Chow and chips may not be that far away).

A note of caution

With any research effort, it always pays to ask: Who funds the study? Usually, costs are justified if there is a human benefit. Wealthy countries that use dogs in military service devote significant dollars to researching their behavior. Pet food manufacturers often fund studies that explore the benefits of pet ownership and ways in which pet ownership can be made easier. Guide dog associations may support studies that make dogs generally healthier or more successful in training. All of the above have human benefits: War dogs keep us safe from terrorism, pet dogs keep us happy, and guide dogs keep partially sighted people from becoming partially flattened.

Given that most research benefits humans, what about studies that benefit dogs? Much of the work some stakeholders would not wish to be associated with is funded by animal-welfare charities. Conspicuously little has been done in this domain, but the strides that have been made recently should be celebrated. That is part of what I hope to achieve with A Modern Dog's Life. I also hope to excite you with the prospect of a rosier future for dogdom.


The Challenges for the Modern Dog

It's easy to forget that dogs have only recently begun to adapt to life in the modern world — a world filled with man-made design and technology. Although this world hasn't been around all that long, humans can rationalize about what's going on in it. On the other hand, the sights, sounds and smells of the twenty-first century might sometimes overwhelm dogs. Wheels, fire, electricity and chemistry are examples of the mechanisms we use to explain "magic" in the modern world. Our dogs experience the outcomes of these inventions without knowing the relationship between cause and effect.

Negotiating a shifting physical world

Consider the physical enclosures we have built around dogs. Solid walls were not part of a free-ranging dog's world — other forces kept pups in the vicinity of the den while the pack went hunting. Modern boundaries and surfaces, such as polished floors, electric fences and escalators can even be hazardous. Stairs, especially those with open spaces between steps, take a bit of getting used to. Then there are elevators that must feel, to a dog, like earth tremors as they come to rest. And how weird it must be for them to go into a room (the elevator) and exit through the same door to an entirely different set of stimuli.

And, of course, there's the challenge of doors themselves: some that open with a gentle nosing, others that slam shut with the wind. There are sliding doors, roll-down shutter doors, glass doors that dogs can see through and screen doors that dogs can see and even smell through. Then there are all those door handles that seem to be the trigger humans touch to make the door change position. Handles come in a raft of different sizes and shapes with locking mechanisms that can be correctly unpicked only by some devilishly deft dogs. The problem-solving these talented safe-crackers have processed is an outstanding example of trial-and-error learning and a tribute to their perseverance. We will explore their adaptive learning in some depth later in the book.

In the same way, cars are boxes that dogs enter only to find themselves emerging elsewhere. Of course, these are no ordinary boxes. If they look through the windows of these special, noisy boxes, dogs see changes: other dogs flashing past without moving their legs, dogs that disappear with or without being barked at (although many dogs seem convinced that barking helps to get rid of them). And when the noisy boxes come to standstill, the dogs who have traveled in them often score a walk in a new territory. How exciting! The joy of the noisy box is enormous for some dogs. No wonder they cock their legs against them.

So cars are extremely significant for many dogs. Dogs can distinguish between one car and the next and recognize the engine noises of different vehicles. Why? This is because certain cars are associated with certain humans. Familiar humans use familiar cars. Intriguingly, dogs can attach importance to the cars that important humans depart in, rather than emerge from. It is almost as if they can make an association between the noise the car makes once the significant human is inside it. The alternative is that they make the association retrospectively after the significant human has emerged from it. But this would require them to log all sounds of all cars just in case a significant human emerged from one of them, a taxing and time-wasting occupation. This skill in dogs is fascinating, since it implies that evolution has helped dogs accomplish the task of associating a novel noise with a disappearing member of the pack. Very puzzling, indeed! I warn you, we're still speculating our way through much of dog behavior. So, for many of these puzzles, your educated guess is as good as mine.

The glass used in windows of cars and houses offers an outstanding example of the mysteries of a modern dog's life. Modern materials defy canine reasoning. Dogs cannot know that this barrier through which they can see but cannot smell is a baked, silicon-based fluid that permits the passage of light particles. When puppies first encounter a glass panel they simply learn that its lack of permeability is nonnegotiable and that anything they cannot smell through is something they cannot walk through.

Who is that dog in the mirror?

The visual challenges of the modern world do not stop there. Consider mirrors. When a pup sees its reflection for the first time, what follows is usually amusing for most human observers. The learning curve this puppy is on is steepened by the fact that puppies generally find it difficult to identify objects until they reach visual maturity at four months of age. For a pup, a mirror placed on the floor reliably reveals a puppy galloping headlong towards him, staring, head-cocking and play- bowing. As the weeks and months of adolescence sweep by, the puppy trapped behind the mirror ages and become less interested in and interesting for the observer, until ultimately the two ignore each other almost entirely. Mirrors can help members of other species, such as horses and some birds, cope with isolation, but there is no evidence that they can spare dogs the misery of separation-related distress (discussed further in chapter 5, [Networking Among Dogs]). As yet we don't know whether this is a hint at self-awareness. The lack of response to the image in the mirror could mean that learning has helped to label the image as irrelevant. This passivity contrasts with reports from primate studies in which observing animals interact with their reflection and, most compelling of all, use the mirrors to remove spots of liquid paper that have been applied to their faces without their knowledge (during general anesthesia).

Television: What's all the fuss about?

If mirrors are confusing for dogs, television programs are probably an utter mystery, bringing as they do a nonstop cascade of moving images and sounds that humans gather round to sit and stare at. In the natural state, dogs in a group never arrange themselves around an object and stare at it. The closest equivalent is the way they might surround a prey item, and then the standing and staring gives way very rapidly to grabbing and tearing. Televisions don't smell like prey and they don't move like prey, so do dogs look at humans paying homage to the colored cabinet in the corner and wonder what all the fuss is about?


Excerpted from "A Modern Dog's Life"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Paul McGreevy.
Excerpted by permission of The Experiment Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 For the Love of Dog 1

2 The Challenges for the Modern Dog 8

3 What Dogs Value 30

4 What Dogs Dislike 49

5 Networking Among Dogs 67

6 Sex, Disease and Aging 96

7 What Motivates Dogs? 117

8 Bonding with Non-dogs 135

9 Learning about the World 155

10 The Dogs of Opportunity 166

11 The Artful Dodgers 182

12 Fine-Tuning 197

13 The School of Life 214

14 All Dogs Are Not Equal 236

15 Working Alliances 254

16 The Next Generation 266

17 Rex in the City 285

Acknowledgments 304

Index 306

About the Author 313

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