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.