Part 1:  Myths about origin and nature

From the book: The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs
Copyright 2009 by Alexandra Semyonova -- All Rights Reserved
Myth 1: The dog is a descendant of the wolf. Because of this
we should regard him as a sort of tame wolf in our living room.

The idea of the dog as a tame wolf has a huge romantic attraction for us. We imagine the great grey
wolf of the northern regions of the Earth, a powerful wild animal weighing 160–220 pounds, who
spends his days hunting deer, moose or elk. We dream of our own ancestors finding (or stealing) a
wolf puppy and raising him with lots of TLC. We imagine this pup growing up to be man’s friend and
companion, and bearing tame pups for us. After thousands generations of this, we supposedly
produced the dog as we now know him. We see a direct line of descent going from our own dog
straight to the mighty grey wolf we see on Discovery Channel. Wow, a wolf in our living room, what a
powerful feeling!

We now know that this isn’t how it happened. Our ancestors didn’t tame the dog at all. The dog most
likely tamed himself. Besides, the dog’s ancestor isn’t the mighty grey wolf of Discovery Channel.
That wolf didn’t exist yet when the dog began to split off into a new species — the grey wolf as he is
today had yet to evolve, just as the domestic dog did. What you need to imagine is a much smaller
animal, who had already split off from the wolf family line, some 200,000–500,000 years ago. This
ancestor wasn’t a specialised hunter like the wolf is, but rather what biologists call a ‘generalist’ — an
animal that is not limited to one special food source or environment, but that can adapt to various
situations. This smaller ancestor probably looked somewhat like the dingo and other primitive dogs
who still live in the wild today. It may not have been a pack animal. In fact, pack living is rare among
canids. So, like most of the generalist canids we see today, the dog’s ancestor probably lived in pairs
and temporary family groups, able to deal both with being together and with being alone.

So now you are picturing a smaller, more dog-like kind of animal. What did this pre-dog animal do
that led, in the end, to the present day dog? And did we have anything to do with it? The answer to
both questions lies in our own development as a species. Like most species, we struggled along for
millions of years, our numbers limited by the availability of food. Then, about 130,000 years ago, we
invented the bow and arrow. This was a great leap, but — contrary to the myth — it didn’t mean that
the dog’s ancestor immediately joined us to help with the hunt. The dog was still just a wild animal,
and like all wild canids — right up to the present, and even if they are raised in a human home — he
remained totally useless to us during the hunt.

So our bow and arrow didn’t mean that some wolf was suddenly able to work as a tracking and
hunting dog, as the myth tells us. It did mean that our ancestors suddenly had a much easier time
getting enough to eat. They started to leave small dumps behind at their encampments, dumps
where there were edible leftovers for others to find. A new food source opened up for other species
in the area. And when a new food source opens up in a particular environment, some animal always
moves in to exploit it. In this case, a few of the sometimes hunting, sometimes scavenging, small
ancestors of the present day dog were the ones who made the move. These were individuals who
were attracted to a much easier (and safer) way to make a living. All they needed to do was trail
along behind groups of humans and eat at the dumps we left behind. Perhaps they still ran into
roaming, human-fearing relatives occasionally when their paths happened to cross, and perhaps
they sometimes still mated with these animals — but most of the pups would come of mating at
dumps, between loner animals who were now getting a living by scavenging our waste. This was the
beginning reproductive separation, and thus of the formation of a separate species.

So, probably about 130,000 years ago, we have a number of these dog-like ancestors who split off
and entered a new ecological niche. Partially reproductively isolated in this new niche, they began to
develop specifically doggy characteristics. In order to meet at the dump and thus be able to mate,
these animals had to have special qualities. They had to be prepared to eat ready-made food
instead of hunting (the food you give your dog is, up to this day, still made of our waste, even the
most fancy and expensive brands). If they lived in groups, they had to be willing to give this up in
favour of wandering around alone or in pairs (even at the dump, there wouldn’t have been enough
food for a large group). They had to be able to share space (the dump) with strangers of their own
species who had also discovered this new source of food. And — most important of all — they had to
have a less-than-average fear of humans. These animals were in the process of making a choice.
They were farther from their cousin the wolf than ever, but they weren’t domestic dogs yet, either.
The choice that some of them made led them down the road to becoming, at this juncture, a sort of
pre-domestic dog. This animal’s anatomy was still adjusted to a life of travelling as they trailed along
behind groups of nomadic humans. This is probably why archaeologists don’t find typically doggy
remains from this period. The dog’s body hadn’t changed yet, even though his behaviour and his
brain were already changing. But before this animal could become a real domestic dog, our own
species had to make its next step.

This next step came about 12,000 years ago, when we developed agriculture. Humans stopped
roaming as hunters and gatherers and started living in permanent settlements. Now the pre-dog
could also settle down and live permanently at the dump. Now he wouldn’t run into relatives who were
still hunting and still shy of humans, not even by accident. There would be no more mating with
hunters, not even occasionally. His body could now adapt to a non-travelling life, besides the
changes that had already taken place in his brain and behaviour. Within a very short time, the dog
as we know it today was a fact. This is the period when truly doggy skeletal remains showed up. The
other branches of the family continued on their hunter’s way, and became the wild dogs you now see
on Discovery Channel. The present-day grey wolf has nothing to do with it.

Fact: The dog and the wolf are related to each other in the same way you are related to your sixth
cousin, and in the same way we are all related to some other types of primates (monkeys and apes).
We share an ancestor, that’s all. But the dog most definitely didn’t descend from the grey wolf, any
more than you descended from your cousin.

Belyaev, DK, Trut, LN, Some genetic and endocrine effects of selections for domestication in silver
foxes, in The Wild Canids, Fox, MW, ed., Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1975.
Belyaev, DK, Plyusnina, IZ, and Trut, LN, Domestication in the silver fox (Vulpes fulvus desm):
changes in physiological boundaries of the sensitive period of primary socialization, Applied Animal
Behaviour Science 13:359–70, 1984/85.
Coppinger, R, Coppinger, L, Dogs: a startling new understanding of canine origin, behaviour, and
evolution, Scribner, New York, 2001.
Koler-Matznick, J, The origin of the dog revisited, Anthrozoos 15(20): 98–118, 2002.
Sibly, RM, Smith, RH, Behavioural Ecology: Ecological Consequences of Adaptive Behaviour,
Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, 1985.

Myth 3: Everything we know about wolves applies to dogs,

We’ve already seen a number of reasons why this isn’t true. The dog’s ancestor eventually became a
dog because he left the ecological niche his ancestor may have shared with the wolf’s ancestors
more than 500,000 years ago. The domestic dog evolved in a totally different environment than the
wolf. Their genetic similarity means about as much (or as little) as our similarity to various apes

But there is more you need to know. Even if we could apply what we know about wolves to dogs, the
fact is that we don’t know very much about wolves. This may surprise you. Indeed, much has been
published about wolves – books, articles, documentaries on television – and most of it in such an
authoritative tone. Surely we must know all about them? The trouble is that most of what people
pretend to know about wolves is based either on fantasy and speculation, or on insufficient data and
poorly designed research.  

Mankind has been waging a war of annihilation against the wolf for hundreds of years now, because
modern man always viewed the wolf as a competitor in the hunt and a danger for his cattle. There
may have been a time when the wolf wasn’t scared of humans, but that was long before we develop
writing, let alone science. By the time we decided to study the wolf, this animal had become so shy of
us that it was almost impossible to get a glimpse of him in his natural habitat. This is, first of all,
because by that time there were already damned few wolves left to study. And second of all, the ones
that did survive us had learned to melt away into the forest the instant they heard or smelled us, still
do. It has been almost impossible, for more than a hundred years now, to even see a wild wolf, let
alone study his behavior – except the behavior of fleeing from a threat to his life.

So wolves do their utter best not to let themselves be observed by humans in the wild, while science
demands that conclusions be based on observations. Scientists puzzled for awhile, then came up
with a solution of their own. Once in awhile they manage to shoot a wolf with a tranquilizer dart, after
which they put a radio collar around his neck and release him to rejoin his pack. After that, the
scientists can locate the group of wolves by following the signal the collared wolf is transmitting. What
they generally do is go out in an airplane and fly around in the hope of picking up a signal. Some
days they are lucky. They locate the wolves and try to follow the group, watching the wolves’
behavior from the air. However, there is a problem with this. As soon as the airplane was invented,
people, as usual, abused this technology. They immediately began to kill wolves from the air. At this
point, the wolf has had almost a hundred years’ time to learn that the sound of an airplane is a signal
of death. Wolves who hear an airplane do not go hang out on open terrain and display all kinds of
natural behavior for you. They head for the cover of the forest as quick as they can. Yet again, the
only behavior the scientist sees is flight behavior. So Discovery Channel may make it look as if you
can just walk into the woods and film a bunch of wolves from close by, but this isn’t really how it
works. The shots you see on TV are often the product of long and careful searching and tracking,
and then filmed with telescopic lenses the size of your arm. They are pieces of luck and the result of
enormous patience. Lots of people who research wild wolves spend years just finding and analyzing
scats (wolf poop) without ever getting a glimpse of a real, live wolf.

Because of this, most of the published research on wolves has been done on captive wolves.  
Scientists gather together whatever wolves are, for some reason, available, and they house the
wolves in a pen somewhere. Under the best of circumstances, the enclosure may be a couple of
square miles. The wolves are then fed daily. Scientists can settle back and observe what the animals
do, since the animals can’t escape them anymore. This is, of course, a highly artificial situation. First
of all, the wolves behave while being watched by their jailer. This means we watch them under
heightened stress and have no idea what they’d do if a human weren’t around. Secondly, it gives us
no idea what the wolves would be doing if they had to go get their own food instead of hanging out all
day with nothing much to do. Finally, the scientist has in fact taken a bunch of arbitrarily selected
total strangers and shut them up in an unnaturally small amount of space, and is forcing them to live
with each other in this small space for the duration of their lives whether they like it (and each other)
or not.  

This is contrary to all natural circumstances. There are a few things we do know for sure about
wolves from the few glimpses people have gotten of them living free in the forests. In the wild, a
group of wolves travels a territory far too large for any human to enclose. Traveling is the main thing
they do, filling their days with finding food. A natural pack is not a collection of strangers. A natural
pack is a family, whose members know each other from birth. These family members stay together
voluntarily, and each and every one of them can leave at will if he doesn’t like it anymore. They can
also leave to seek out a mate and form their own family. They do not have to stay together no matter
what, anymore than you have to live with your own parents forever.  

You won’t learn much about the natural behavior of wolves by jailing a group of strangers on a tiny
surface area and watching them be bored there, except maybe that they are so tolerant and social
that they still don’t kill each other. Dr. L. David Mech, just about the greatest living authority on
wolves, put it in a nutshell with these words: 'Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw
inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps.'  

Even where we can get a glimpse of wolf life in the wild, we are now watching a species whose habitat
has been mostly destroyed. Food is now much more scarce for them than it was a hundred years
ago. So is living space. So even then, we are watching wolves whose behavior has been influenced
by our presence, which has caused them a lot of problems.  

Fact: The dog is not a wolf. If you want to know about dogs, you have to study dogs. But aside from
this, and whether or not you could apply knowledge about wolves to dogs, the fact is that we don’t
have much knowledge about wolves in the first place. The stories that are told about them are
hunters’ stories and jailers’ stories – basically all nonsense, based on myths, fantasy, imagination,
speculation, projection, lies and/or poorly designed research; or by watching them behave in a
habitat that is decaying and disappearing right under their feet. It is no longer possible to study how
wolves behave without some kind of human influence interfering in the picture.  

Read more:

Mech, LD, The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, 1970 (8th ed 1995).
Mech, LD, Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology
1196-1203. Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page.  (Version 16MAY2000).
Mowat, F. Never Cry Wolf; The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves,  McClelland and
Toronto, 1963.

Myth 4: The domestic dog is a hunting species.

We’ve seen that the evolution of the specifically domestic dog probably began when a few of his
ancestors discovered human dumps as a new source of safe and easy food. It’s possible that these
first dump animals were able to exploit the new food source because they were especially smart. It’s
also possible that he was just especially lazy. Which explanation you prefer will depend on your
opinion about present day dogs.

In any case, the decision to switch from the old habits to living on human food waste was an extremely
important one. The dump animals had to dare come fairly close to humans, and to be able to eat in
the presence of our smell. This led to the relative isolation from the members of their kind who did
continue to roam and to shun humans. In the beginning, as humans roamed to hunt with their bows
and arrows, the domestic dog’s ancestor could probably trail along at some small distance, waiting
until we moved on to descend upon our waste pile. This new ecological niche he’d found meant he
was subject to a different kind of natural selection than the ancestor who continued to live far away
from us. Our dump animal may still have supplemented his diet by roaming occasionally, but even the
occasional hunting of small prey was much less important to him now. At this point, he still needed a
body fit for traveling long distances since we still did, but Nature was already selecting for a brain that
dealt differently with both aggression and fear.  

When our own ancestors discovered agriculture and then began to keep cattle, the dog’s
development shifted into high gear. The great efficiency of our food production, which enabled us to
fan out across the Earth, meant that we threw away much more still edible food. The dog’s ancestor
could now abandon roaming and hunting altogether and take up permanent abode near the dump
This meant he had to come live very close to us. We weren’t leaving dumps behind and moving on
anymore. The village dweller doesn’t feel like walking very far with his trash, and it was probably still
dangerous to do so, so the dumps were established close to where we lived. This meant that the pre-
domestic dog had to be able to eat while we were just around the corner and could show up any
minute with a new load of trash. The fact that he could do this means that the fear parts of his brain
had already changed. It also meant that he wouldn’t run into relatives anymore who did still shun
humans and their smell.  

Reproductive isolation was now a fact. The pre-dog’s genes now became subject to a completely
different regime of natural selection than in the old roaming, sometimes hunting niche. This animal no
longer needed to be fit for the traveling or the hunting life. The pre-dogs’s skeleton, muscles and
brain could now start adjusting to the sedentary life. He no longer needed to kill even occasionally to
eat. The ability to deliver a crushing bite, necessary to grab and kill prey, began to disappear. His
jaws and teeth became smaller, as did his head and his brain.  

But it wasn’t just the change in food that caused the killer bite to disappear. Humans do not, right up
to the present day, tolerate animals in their surroundings who are a danger to themselves and their
cattle. Our ancestors probably added their own selective pressure to Nature’s by killing off any of
these pre-dogs who attacked humans or the animals they kept. If he wanted to be able to stay near
humans and eat easily and safely at our dumps, the early dog had to get rid of aggression
altogether. He not only had to refrain from attacking humans, but also from attacking our chickens,
sheep and cows. Killer aggression was not only superfluous, it was now actively dysfunctional,
working to reduce the early dog’s chances of survival. The dog lost the inclination to kill anything at

Fact: The domestic dog is not a hunter.  He is a scavenger.  

See also:  Myth 5

Read more:

Beck, AM, The ecology of "feral" and free-roving dogs in Baltimore, Ch 26, in Fox MW (ed), The Wild
Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, MY, 1975.
Beck, AM, The Ecology of Stray Dogs: A Study of Free-ranging Urban Animals, York Press,
Baltimore, 1973.
Coppinger, R, Coppinger, L, Dogs: a startling new understanding of canine origin, behavior, and
Scribner, New York, 2001.
Nesbitt, WH, Ecology of a feral dog pack on a wildlife refuge, in Fox MW (ed), The Wild Canids, Van
Reinhold Co, MY, 1975.
Rubin, HD, Beck, AM, Ecological behavior of free-ranging urban dogs, Appl An Ethol 8:161-168,
Scott MD, Causey K, Ecology of feral dogs in Alabama, J Wildlife Management 37:252-265, 1973.
Semyonova, A, The social organization of the domestic dog; a longitudinal study of domestic canine
and the ontogeny of domestic canine social systems, Carriage House Foundation, The Hague, The
Netherlands, 2003.
Sibly, RM, Smith, RH, Behavioral Ecology: Ecological Consequences of Adaptive Behavior, Blackwell
Scientific Publications, Oxford, 1985.

Myth 5: But my own dog is obviously a hunter, because he kills
cats (or rabbits, or sheep).

A hunter is not just an animal that kills, it’s an animal that kills to eat. The behavioral sequence of a
true predator that kills other animals in order to eat them looks like this:

Scent > track > watch/orient > stalk > chase > grab > kill > dissect > eat

This isn’t just some arbitrary behavioral chain, it’s a functional chain – a series of steps aimed at
reaching a goal. The goal is to eat. You can only call an animal a predator when he displays the
whole chain, and when he does so in order to get a meal. You can’t call an animal a predator
because he just so happens to look like some ancestor who lived by hunting, or because he
sometimes shows parts of the old behavior just simply because of how his body is still put together.
Domestic dogs do not kill to eat. If you dump them in the woods, they will starve unless there’s a
popular camping site somewhere nearby where there’s enough human garbage to keep them

The dog evolved at the trash dump. He didn’t need to kill to eat. Aggression not only lost its function,
but it actually became a threat to the dog’s survival in our proximity. The killer bite disappeared from
the dog’s natural behavior pattern. Other parts of the pattern were less subject to human selection
against them, parts of the chain we didn’t care one way or the other about. Yet others were still
useful for finding edible parts of the trash pile. So partly human selection, partly human indifference,
and partly the demands of scavenging operated to move the dog further and further away from
whatever predator ancestor he may have had.  

This is, however, a very recent occurrence in terms of evolution. 130,000 or 12,000 years is but the
wink of an eye. Dogs are still shaped basically the same way they were half a million years ago. They
still have four legs and the ability to run fast. They still don’t have hands, only a mouth for grabbing
things.  Their sense of smell is still acute, very good for finding the edibles among all the paper and
plastic. Their hearing is still acute, but it’s now tuned into lower tones than the ears of predators
(whose ears are tuned in to higher tones). Some original ancestral patterns may still be latently
present in the form of reflexes. A dog may watch/orient toward something that moves, for example.
But this is a pattern that goes back to an ancestor even before the reptilian-mammal split – just about
all animals do it, it’s not specifically a hunter’s thing. A dog may reflexively snap at something that
shoots by close to him, which may be a hunter’s reflex – but this still isn’t hunting, anymore than a
monkey reflexively catching a baseball coming at him is tool-making.  

Some of the old patterns just look like they’re still present because the dog’s body is shaped the way
it is. Young dogs chase each other in play, but so do young cows. They are feeling the joy of using
their bodies, which happen to have four legs, and they are practicing social skills. When domestic
dogs bite each other in play, they’re not practicing hunting. They’re practicing not biting too hard.
When they grab something or pick something up with their mouth, it’s not because they are hunters
with an urge to bite – it’s just because they don’t have any hands. When they look like they’re
stalking a mouse, they’re probably just curious, since dogs like to know what’s in their living space.
The stalk and stare stance is just the way their body is put together, although to be honest we don’t
do it much differently ourselves when we want to creep up on something. Dogs might want to chase
the mouse away but probably aren’t thinking about killing it, and they certainly aren’t planning to eat

So what about our these cat and sheep killing dogs? Let’s look first at the dog as he probably was in
the very beginning, at least 12,000 years ago. To do this, we have to go to villages in the Third
World, where these original mutts can still be found hanging out around the dump. They are direct
descendants of the original dog, but so are our own dogs. So what’s the difference? The difference
between our own dogs and these Third World dogs is that humans have never messed around with
the village dogs’ genes to make them into gun dogs or fashion dogs. These village dogs have been
selected purely by the necessities of the ecological niche they live in – natural, not human, selection
created them. That is, aside from rather insistent human help in wiping out aggression altogether by
killing dogs that scared or attacked humans and their cattle, children or chickens. We can assume
that these Third World village dogs represent the original, natural dog. These natural dogs don’t
display the hunting sequence as explained above. If they show these behaviors at all, then it’s only
separate, isolated parts of the chain. They engage in these behaviors mostly during play, and there
is no real aggression involved, same as the great majority of our own dogs. Mostly, these dogs
wander around in villages or watch humans who come to the dumps, staying in the background,
getting close to people yet staying just out of reach, lazing around in the shade, neither chasing nor
biting anything at all. Flight is their first reaction to anything that is perceived as a threat (unless they
are cornered, of course).  

If we now move over to look at the dumps near big cities in the industrial countries of South America,
we get a different story. Here, besides various small, modest dogs of the kind we call “mutts”, we also
find larger dogs that we can identify as belonging to real, modern breeds. These are city dogs who
have either escaped their owners or been abandoned by them. Unlike the mutts, these city dogs do
display the killing bite. Now this is no wonder, and here’s the reason why. These are countries where
the machismo culture still rules. The South American dumps are full of pit bulls and rotweilers. These
are breeds in which humans have worked hard to revive the killing bite, putting together
concentrated and precise breeding programs to produce killer dogs. These human-selected dump
dogs will even threaten humans who come to look at the dump, and they are, unlike the mutts who
are also hanging around, truly dangerous. This contrast gives us the key to why some people have a
problem with their own dog killing other animals, which they then mistakenly attribute to “hunting”

For about the past hundred years, since the very first official breed registers were established, we
have been messing around with the natural dog in a very intense way. Once we understood how
inheritance worked, we began reviving various parts of the dog’s latent behavior chain to suit our
own preferences. We did this by selecting for differences in body and brain as we bred dogs.  
Indeed, genes only specify potential, but by messing around with them we have messed around with
potential. I will explain how this works later, in Myths 38 and 39. For now, it’s enough to say we
created the pointer, exaggerating the “orient > watch” and the start of the “stalk” parts of the
sequence, to get a dog who freezes up at the beginning of the stalk. This is the pointing position.
The border collie is bred for the watch and the stalk. She “gives eye” and approaches the sheep in
the stalk position, posed for the pounce. She may even nip at their heels, but without attacking. The
retriever is bred for the grab bite, and executes this bite without progressing to the killing bite. The pit
bull has the killing bite and the shearing dissection bite, but without the preceding parts of the
sequence (no stalking, freezing up, nor any warning at all).  

If your dog is killing cats or rabbits, it’s probably a breed in which breeders have been too
enthusiastic about reviving the grab bite by breeding for a changed brain. We often see this in
various hunting dog breeds, as well as in breeds that are commonly chosen for police work (e.g., the
German shepherd, the Belgian shepherd Malinois), and in breeds that we have specifically molded
for real killer aggression (the pit bull/American Stafford, the boerbull, the fila Brasileiro, etc.). It is the
interference of the modern consumer in the dog’s genes, which has created dogs with one or two
selected exaggerated reflexes. In their romance with the wolf, these people tell themselves the dog is
displaying parts of some predator’s hunting chain. They forget that many of these behaviors had
acquired a different meaning and function as the dog scavenged the local dump. Scenting and
tracking is just as necessary to find edible bits of garbage. Running is just as good for escaping as
for chasing something. All animals have to bite and chew to eat, even the vegetarian ones. So even if
these behaviors are leftovers of some hunting ancestor, these dogs only show various parts of the
sequence, these parts have gained a new meaning and function, and showing fragmented parts of a
hunting sequence does not make a dog a predator. A predator will display the whole sequence, and
she will display it only when it’s functional and useful to do so. Our own breeding behavior hasn’t
revived the ancient natural chain. Rather, we’ve taken advantage of this scavenger’s shape and her
play behavior, applying artificial selection to create dogs who show separate and exaggerated
behaviors, which we then kid ourselves has something to do with some wild predator. All we’ve really
done is create abnormalities. Often distortion of the dog’s body has gone along with this. All of these
dogs would still be hopeless at the real hunt and would probably die of starvation if they had to make
a living of it.  

Aside from our consumer interest in her genes, there are also other reasons why your dog might be
killing other animals. If your dog is not a pit bull or one of the others we’ve bred for exaggerated size
and/or aggression, and if you allow her to develop normally by playing with other dogs while she’s
young, she will learn to control her bite with great precision no matter how excited she is. This is a
thing all natural dogs learn, as a matter of course, since there are no humans around to keep them
from interacting with other dogs during their puppy days. If you overprotect your puppy, not allowing
her to play often and long with other dogs, you prevent her from learning to control her bite. She can
bite too hard without even knowing she is doing it, and without meaning to do any harm. She just has
no idea what she can do with her teeth. This is not because she is a hunter, but rather an
educational deficiency.  

Punishment can also be a reason for a dog to kill cats or other animals, even if she isn’t of a breed
that we’ve made into killers. If a dog is often punished in the presence of other animals, she will
eventually start to become aggressive towards those animals. It is a proven fact that dogs don’t
associate punishment with their own behavior. Rather, they associate a punishment with something
that just so happens to be nearby when the punishment takes place. In other words, your dog won’t
understand that you are punishing her for growling at the cat, or chasing the cat away from her treat,
or for being too interested in the sheep. What the dog perceives is that you often punish her when
the cat’s around, or whenever the two of you get near sheep. Now, it is also a proven fact that
punishment very often arouses aggression. When you put these two facts together, we get a logical
result. The punished dog will try harder and harder to chase the damn cat away before you notice
the cat and start acting all angry again. All you see is that the dog is still chasing the cat, and that it’s
getting worse, so you punish her even harder. The cat becomes more and more aversive to the dog,
and the aggression, which punishment quite normally evokes, becomes more and more uncontrolled.
If the dog now gets a chance to chase a cat (or a sheep), she may very well kill the other
animal. This does not mean the dog is a predator, because even rats and mice, prey species who
have never hunted, display the same aggression when punished in the laboratory. A dog who kills
other animals is often the result of the owner inadvertently training the dog to feel aggressive
towards other animals.

So now we have several situations in which a dog escapes and then comes back later, after having
killed a cat, or a rabbit, or a sheep. She may leave the dead animal behind, or she may come back to
you carrying the whole dead cat or rabbit in her mouth.  You think you are dealing with an instinctive

But let’s look yet a little closer. If you go back and look at the hunting sequence, you may notice that
something is missing in your dog’s behavior, namely the last two parts of the real hunting sequence.
Your dog does not rip apart the cat she caught, nor does she eat it. The pit bull (and the other
aggressive breeds) will often execute ripping, dissecting movements during an attack. But they also
will often continue to attack long after the other animal is dead, and then they suddenly calm down
and walk away. You will not see a real predator do either of these things. The dog who suffered a
educational deprivation in her youth just doesn’t know she’s biting too hard. She isn’t intending any
harm at all, let alone having hunting intentions. The punished dog is not naturally aggressive.  Her
reaction is punishment-induced aggression, which has nothing to do with hunting. She just wants to
get rid of the cat, if possible for once and for always, so the punishment will stop.  

It does sometimes happen that a purebred, non-pit-bull-type dog, who has been allowed to play with
other dogs while growing up, and who has never been punished around other animals, will escape
and play ravage with a herd of sheep. Even so, these dogs are not really hunting. They are playing.
The dog will chase a sheep, grab it, possibly wound it badly or kill it. Then the dog will switch to
chasing another sheep who is trying to run away, executing the sequence all over again. To this dog,
the game is only interesting as long as the other animal is still moving. Eating is not the point.  The
dog that kills the sheep still hopes to see dinner waiting in his food bowl when he gets home. This
makes the game and its motivation essentially different from what a real hunter does. The real
predator isn’t playing when she chases another animal. The real predator is involved in a serious
activity, namely, food acquisition. The real hunter has to put a lot of energy into merely surviving, and
she is therefore careful about her energy expenditure. Hunting is done as efficiently as possible. The
wolf takes a single prey and eats that prey with hair and hide. It is this very fact that enables ranchers
to know whether it was a wolf, or indeed a dog, who attacked the herd in the night.  

Your pedigreed dog is not a product of Nature, but rather a product of consumer society. Our
interference in her genes has moved her back several steps in time, removing a number of typically
doggy characteristics, and actually making her less of a real, natural dog. We have been able to do
this because the dog descended from an animal that sometimes hunted. She has the same basic
body shape and has some of the old structures in her brain in a diminished or changed form. But this
is not at all the same thing as saying the present day domestic dog is a predator. A present day
domestic dog who kills has nothing to do with predation. Her behavior is either a distorted and non-
functional revival of separate behaviors that struck our fancy, or it is due to lack of education. It has
nothing at all to do with the serious business of getting food or with the natural behavior of the
domestic dog as a species.  

Fact: The domestic dog is not a predator. The domestic dog is a scavenger, including your killer

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On to Myth 10
Nonlinear Dogs
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