Nonlinear Dogs
WHAT IS A DOG?  

PART 3

More basic misunderstandings

WE HAVE BEEN STUDYING THE WRONG ANIMAL THE WRONG WAY

Most people who write about dogs have read lots of books about the gray wolf.  When they write, they simply
transfer everything they've read about this wolf to dogs.  This means that most dog books are really about the
gray wolf.  As we pointed out on the previous page, this is like watching chimpanzees and then writing a book
about human psychology.  Or like watching human men behave and then suddenly writing a book about
human women.  

But there's another problem.  Most of the studies of wolves are done by watching captive wolves because wild
wolves are so hard to spot and observe.  Studying captive animals means you are watching animals behave
under abnormal circumstances.  So most of what people write even about wolves has nothing to do with
normal wolf reality.  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.”

Dr. Mech has spent most of his life so far observing the gray wolf in its natural surroundings.  He has come to
the conclusion that wolves do not organize their relations and their groups by dominance and dominance
hierarchies.  Rather, a pack of wolves is organized along family lines.  The younger wolves look up to the
older ones not due to dominance relations, but because these are their parents, aunts and uncles.  The
relationships seem to be based on affection rather than on power.   Mech also blows up the myth that only the
"Alpha" pair mates and bears young.  He points out that in the end, all the pack members do mate and
reproduce.  

If you want to know any animal, you have to study it in its natural surroundings.  Even if you want to keep
believing the dog is a wolf, it's time to update your ideas about wolves.  However, the fact remains that if you
want to know about dogs, then you have to study dogs.  




Go on to part 4



Mech, LD, Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77:1196-
1203. Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page.
http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/mammals/alstat/intro.htm
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