By Pat Miller
Not far below the furry surface of your favorite domestic canine companion lurks a mind surprisingly similar to that of its ancestor and current-day cousin, the wolf. We have stretched and molded the dog’s plastic genetic material to create hundreds of widely diverse breeds — from the tiny Chihuahua to the giant St. Bernard — all to serve our various human whims. But our dogs’ behaviors to this day closely mirror those chosen by natural selection to ensure the wolf’s survival some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago – or more – when the wild canine was first invited to share the warmth and protection of the fires in our ancestors’ caves.
The historical genetic package that has enabled the dog to become our species “best friend” comes as both a blessing and a curse. The natural behaviors we love in our canine companions are the same ones that make us tear our hair out. For example, the desire to be a member of a social group, or pack, is what makes the dog so amenable to family life and training. It is this same social reinforcement that in some dogs triggers incredibly destructive “separation anxiety” behaviors when a dog is left alone, behaviors that include non-stop barking and howling, inappropriate urination and defecation, chewing, and self-destructive escape attempts.
When their behaviors are understood and properly directed, our dogs are well-adjusted, cherished family members. The millions of dogs abandoned at animal shelters in the U.S. every year are tragic testimony to how often we fail.
Peaceable Paws LLC
Pat Miller, CPDT, CDBC
Pat Miller is a Certified Dog and Horse Behavior Consultant and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She offers classes, behavior modification services, training clinics and academies for trainers at her 80-acre Peaceable Paws training facility in Fairplay, Maryland, and presents seminars worldwide. She has authored “The Power of Positive Dog Training,” “Positive Perspectives,” “Positive Perspectives 2,” and “Play With Your Dog.” Miller is training editor for The Whole Dog Journal, writes for Tuft’s University’s Your Dog, and several other publications.She shares her home with husband Paul, five dogs, three cats, five horses and a donkey.www.peaceablepaws.com