Comparative Canid Behavior

This summary doesn’t begin to address the subject in depth, to do so would require a book, but I hope you’ll find what I’ve written interesting nonetheless. My biggest problem with this was not spending all week on it… the topic is so interesting, and almost every fact led to a question. (Territorial? Well, that’s a highly variable concept. How does it differ between species, say dogs and wolves for example.) You can see the problem here, but one of the great things about science is that it every answer generates new questions. That’s heaven for discovery junkies like me.

AFRICAN WILD DOGS  Lycaon pictus:

Also known as Cape Hunting Dogs or Painted Dogs, these canids are not “dogs” at all (note they are in a different genus than wolves and dogs). Called the wolves of Africa, they are highly social, territorial carnivores who are more dependent on group hunting than any other canid. They specialize in medium sized prey (Impala are their preferred prey) and like Hyenas, tend to rely on running their prey to exhaustion rather than the classic stalk and pounce of some canids and most big cats. (They also, like Hyenas, hunt mostly at night, thus stalking is of less importance under the cover of darkness.) They do NOT run in “relays” as often described, but tend to run in loose groups, well spread out, so that a zig-zagging quarry has a higher chance of running into another pack member when they change direction. AWDs have incredible stamina: they can run 5 km at 30 mph.

I’m not sorry I missed seeing a kill. AWDs have an incredibly high success rate as hunters (about 85%) and usually disembowl and begin consuming their prey before the animal is dead. Granted, it is probably in shock, and well might not be feeling anything at all, but I’ve seen a crocodile consume a Gazelle, and 3 African Bullalo kill another full grown buffalo, and a lion with a freshly killed zebra foal–and that’s enough for me.

Their social system is similar in many ways to that of wolves. There is usually only one breeding pair (but note there are exceptions in wolves, not sure if true in AWDs), along with non-breeding adults who also care for the young and provision the mother and pups. Unlike most social mammals in which the males leave the group and the females stay, related males stay in the pack in this species and older females emigrate if the pack becomes too large. They are completely reliant on being in a group. One study I read said that less than a group of less than 6 or 8 AWDs were incapable of successful reproduction (due no doubt to less predatory success). Their packs can become quite large, sometimes as many as 20 to 40 dogs will live in one pack.

What’s different about AWDs and Wolves is how the breeding pair maintain their rank. Apparently there are very few overt displays of aggression; you see almost none of the facial displays, growls or dominance  related actions that are commonly seen in wolves. AWDs were believed at one point not to have a social hierarchy, but careful study found that wild dogs assert their social status by assuming the same stalking posture that they use when hunting or by simply supplanting (taking the space of) another. You DO see a lot of submissive behavior, from ears-back, toothy-grinned submission displays, food begging & whining. Adults will often regurgitate food to adult pack members who missed out on a kill (which happens often, since the hunting pack is so dispersed and the food is usually consumed within just a few minutes.)

BLACK-BACKED Canis mesomelas & GOLDEN JACKALS Canis aureus :

This is a Black-backed Jackal in Botswana, found feeding on what was left of a kill with its mate and a group of White-backed Vultures.

Also highly territorial, Jackals do not live in large groups like AWDs and Wolves. The usual core social unit is a monogamous pair, although both species sometimes have yearling young who stay with their parents and acts as “helpers at the nest.”  (Who often trespass on neighboring territories, unlike the breeding pair who rarely do.)

Jackals could be called the “coyotes of Africa,” being of similar size, not as reliant on group hunting behavior as AWDs and Wolves, and being one of the least specialized of the canidae. Jackals eat just about anything, including insects (a large part of their diet), rodents (who they pounce upon exactly like foxes and coyotes, not to mention lots of domestic dogs), lizards, eggs, and the young of ungulates like Thompson’s Gazelles. They are most successful at preying upon fawns when in pairs: one individual will harass the mother while the other grabs the young and runs off with it.

They also, like coyotes, have developed a fondness for domestic livestock. In a study by Gusset (2009) in South Africa (or Botswana?), it was found that jackals were responsible for 724 of the 938 acts of wild animal predation on cattle and goats. And like coyotes, jackals are doing relatively well, in spite of the conflicts between them and ranchers. Lesson learned: Be a generalist- it pays off!

Jackals howl in chorus, probably as a way of keeping track of their mates, staying in contact with their young and warning off adjacent territory holders.  Black-backed Jackals (BBs) tend to show more aggression within the group: siblings become “increasingly quarrelsome” and they have a “more rigid rank hierarchy” if they stay with their parents. Golden Jackals appear to be far more laid-back, with little aggression between individuals, and no instances in which the parents drive the young away (as seen in BB’s). This is ironic, because BB’s reproductive success is higher with helper’s than it is if the breeding pair goes it alone.

Breeding is always done by one pair only. Sexual behavior is suppressed in non-breeders: yearling males have small, undeveloped testes and don’t scent mark at all until they have their own territory. The guide books will tell you that you usually see jackals in pairs, and in previous trips to Africa that’s what we’ve always seen. They tend to travel in single file, the male often in front, and I’ve often seen them scent mark the exact same spot, one at a time, as they trot along a line. However, on this trip, most of the jackals we saw (mostly Black Backed) were alone. That MIGHT be because of the drought. Food was scarce I’d suspect, and there’s no value in group hunting for grasshoppers….

For more information about African Canids, and the behavior of all large African mammals, go to my African behavioral bible: Richard Estes’ Behavior Guide to African Mammals. It’s amazing.

GREY WOLF Canis lupus lupus:

Photo taken at Wolf Park, Battleground, Indiana. I took the photo, but can’t take the credit: Monty Sloan, wolf photo journalist extraordinaire, lent me his incredible camera. This was taken at the beginning of the breeding season (February), when “who’s who in the social hierarchy” was pretty much the topic of the week.

Highly territorial and highly social, “the soul of the wolf is the pack, and the soul of the pack is the wolf”.  Although single wolves can and do live alone successfully, there is no debate that the wolf is essentially a pack animal who is most comfortable and most reproductively successful when living in groups. Like AWDs, wolves specialize on large prey: Elk, Bison and White-Tailed Deer. Thus, their social system is driven by the ecological niche: their specialization on large prey requires group living and cooperative hunting. Wolves are the widest ranging canid in the world, with the possible exception of the Red Fox. They are one of the few circum-polar species, being found in northern Canada, northern Europe and northern Asia.

You don’t need me to tell you that wolves usually have one breeding pair, that reproduction by other adults is usually suppressed by the alpha female who hip slams and harasses the other females at high rates before she goes into estrous. On the other hand, you are also probably aware there are a lot of exceptions: the pack in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone that Jim and I watched was believed to have three litters.

The most interesting difference to me between Wolf and AWD behavior is the difference in their social organization and signaling. Wolves are famous for their clear facial and postural signals that continually reinforce social status. High ranking individuals use a lot of displays (rank is within sex both in Wolves and AWDs, not between them), from offensive puckers to tooth displays to growls to standing over.. etc etc to maintain their social ranking. AWDs are rarely seen to give ‘offensive’ displays, so much so that researchers initially thought they had no social hierarchy at all. And yet they do, but it is primarily maintained by submissive displays rather than displays of dominance. In the end, they seem to have a very similar social system: highly pack oriented, adults caring for the young of other individuals, a high degree of care and concern for other pack members, a high degree of play (not sure about AWDs here) even as adults. But these similar social systems are maintained in very different ways, with far more tooth displays, growls and postural displays in wolves than in AWDs.

THE DOMESTIC DOG Canis Lupus Familiaris:

I took this photo of “Village Dogs” on a previous trip to Africa. These were the classic ‘unowned’ foraging dogs that live off of scraps and garbage in human settlements.

I use this photo in seminars when I talk about the D word in dog behavior. (Wayne Hunthausen and I once came up with calling dominance “the concept formerly described as dominance,” complete with a Prince-like icon to avoid using that loaded term.) I could, of course, write forever about the behavior of the domestic dog, but here’s the part that seems most relevant to the species above:

1) Social hierarchy does seem to be important to at least SOME dogs. Look at the clear displays in the photo above. I don’t think we can toss out the concept just because it has been so mis-used by so many (and that is an understatement to say the least). “Dominance” is a relationship (thus, there is no such thing as a “dominant dog”) between individuals, and it simply means who has the most social freedom in a context in which they both want the same thing. It can be maintained or achieved in many ways. Fighting is the LEAST effective way to get it, and given the dangers of fighting if you have carpet knives in your mouth, hierarchies are a way to AVOID fighting, not encourage it. Usually it is maintained by visual and acoustic displays that signal to others where a dog/wolf believes itself to be in the social group.

2) Here are my speculations about dogs, wolves and their social system: Domestic dogs may be the same species as wolves, but their behavior is profoundly different from wolves. But that doesn’t mean it is not related. My impression is that dogs vary greatly, much more so than wolves, in how important social hierarchy is to them (as well as to how territorial they are). This fits with my observations of thousands of dogs over 22 years, but more importantly it also fits with the biology and genetics of the domestic dog. The physical and behavioral variability of dogs is remarkable, and is potentially caused by something called a Regulator Gene that creates changes in the developmental rates of individuals. It also creates a high degree of variability, which is exactly what we see in dogs. Dogs can weigh 2 pounds or 250, be obsessed with ball play or oblivious to it, uncomfortable with strangers or party animals who love everyone. And they are SO much less serious than wolves about hierarchy and territory–but some less than others, yes?

Exactly how dogs end up being so genetically plastic is still under investigation, but the dog’s variation in size, structure and behavior correlates with what I see as a highly variable sense of social hierarchy. Some dogs just couldn’t seem to care less, other dogs display very stereotyped and “serious-looking” social displays. Some dogs are highly territorial, others would invite the entire dog park home if they could.

I’m curious what you think. And please, before you react to the “D” word, keep this in mind. Dominance, as it should be used and understood, has NOTHING to do with good dog training. By suggesting that social status is still relevance to some dogs (between dogs that is, between dogs and people is an entirely different conversation!) I am NOT saying that it has any relevance to teaching our dogs how we would like them to behave, any more than I would teach a child that she could get anything she wanted just by throwing her social weight around… That said, what do you think? Have you found that the domestic dogs you know and have worked with vary in their interest in social status with other dogs? Or not?

Meanwhile, back at the farm: Lassie and Will are great. Lassie’s chem panel  just came back and her kidney values are not just h olding steady, they are improving. Wheeeee! (She was diagnosed at Stage 2 Kidney Failure almost 2 years ago.) I still have 3 sheep who can’t seem to get enough oxygen in their lungs. The vet was out for the 3rd time, we have 2 more diseases to run tests on. I split out the 2 thin ones (Martha 2.0 and Barbie) and kept them with the lambs. That way I can grain them all together, while the other 7 ewes are stuck in the orchard pasture. The lambs and ewes can still greet through the fence, which has been found to be the least stressful way to wean off the lambs. Please explain this to the lambs, who were bawling non-stop this morning. Poor babies. They’ll stop by tomorrow, but still…..


  1. Kel says

    It’s strange that you mention lots of aggressive displays and dominance among wolves. Have you read much of David Mech’s articles, especially regarding wolf breeding pair rank and how they keep it (by breeding, he says) and how division of labor and dominance truly works in a non-captive wolf pack? He presents some very compelling information.

  2. Lacey H says

    In my fostering of many small dogs I’ve seen quite a variance of dominant behavior with other dogs. Before taking one I do try to screen out the most dominant ones, since they can be a pain to live with in a small space. But of course I can be fooled. Once I brought one home – known to be a Boston Terrier-Cattle Dog cross – because she was very sore after a pregnant spay, and I thought she’d be ok for a week until the next space was available. Wrong! After three days she made a serious unprovoked attack on my female, and wanted to continue. She lived in a crate until the weekend.
    My present female is very canny about selecting suitable foster dogs, especially with other females, and I can rely on her judgment.

  3. Nicola says

    Last weekend I attended a seminar by Ray Coppinger in which he suggested that, since wolves, coyotes, jackals & dogs are all inter-fertile, they should be considered one species! I’m not sure how AWDs fit in though.

    I appreciate your comments about dominance – the vet. animal behaviourist one of my dogs is seeing calls the same concept deference, which actually describes the interactions more accurately from my point of view.

    For 5 years I had two female desexed dogs where I couldn’t figure out who was dominant. They had totally different priorities in life – one loved cuddles, the other hated them, one adored bones, the other couldn’t care less, and so there was no conflict. In fact, I have a wonderful picture of the bigger dog (about border collie size) lying out in the sun with the little dog lying on top of it. When I bought a short haired border collie male/desexed adolescent into the pack, everything changed. The boy and the kelpie x both love bones, and the boy and the smaller dog both love cuddles. This has resulted in a more rigid hierachical structure What I find most interesting is that the development of this structure has changed the free & easy relationship between the girls to one where the small girl is definitely the higher ranking dog. Is it just that there is more competition for my time, or has the small girl decided she likes being boss and wants to boss the other girl around too? So much more complicated, and subtle than the old school “dominance” theories!

  4. Emily says

    Yay you posted it!!

    As for “the concept formerly known as dominance”, I strongly agree that it matters more to some dogs than others. My Brittany and his “best friend” (the next-door neighbour’s Golden Retriever) don’t display a consistent social hierarchy and appear to be largely unconcerned with the whole subject, but I’ve seen some classic, serious social (dominance) displays in other dogs we encounter.

    Not to be nit-picky, but you’ve reversed the scientific nomenclature for the jackles. Canis aureus is the Golden Jackle (aureus being Latin for gold) and C. mesomelas being the Black-Backed Jackle (my Latin is not fantastic, but I believe that “mesomelas” means something along the lines of “dark-back”).

  5. Trisha says

    Emily: THANKS! Foolish mistake on my part, so thanks for setting it straight. (I fixed it on the site, so don’t be confused if it’s correct now.)

  6. Trisha says

    To Kel: Yes, I’ve read lots of Mech, have watched captive and wild wolves both, and there is just no question that wolves perform a lot more growling, tooth displaying and standing over than African Wild Dogs. Wolves are also engagingly playful and often altruistic. I am not saying that the D word is the end all and be all of relationships–it is a very complicated and is relevant only in some contexts and very much not in others. What’s most important, as Mech and I both emphasize, is that social freedom can be obtained in many ways.

    Here’s how my usually submissive but smart as a whip BC Pip used to get the bone: She’d lay on her side, 10 feet away from Queen Tulip, the huge Great Pyrenees, who was chewing on the bone. Pip would give a huge submissive grin, stay on her side, keep her head low and thump her tail. If she got no reaction from Tulip, she’d crawl over a few feet and repeat. In about 5 minutes she’d get herself right next to Tulip, and begin licking Tulip’s muzzle in the classic infantile food begging behavior seen from pups. But she licked so enthusiastically (I called it “aggressively obsequious”) that Tulip grimaced and turn her head away. Pip kept it up, all the while displaying extreme forms of deference (love that term). Tulip had learned that being polite around ‘treasures’ pays off (after having been extremely food aggressive in her adolescence) and ended up walking away. Pip lay down with the bone.

    Lesson: There are many ways to get what you want, and social status is only one of them!

  7. Alexandra says

    Thank for the fascinating post!

    I don’t work with dogs professionally, so I don’t have a large sample, but even among my and my friends’ Labradors (which are famous for being easy going) I do see some difference in how they value social status. Now, there’s no fighting or anything even remotely that serious going on between my two labs and my friend’s two, but we do notice that her male will be the one who gets to keep the ball when he really wants it. He will even stand over the ball and show his teeth to my younger male, looking for all the world like an alpha wolf over an elk carcass I saw on a nature program once (and at this point the humans take posession of the ball. Game over!). The two female dogs don’t seem to care much about this, but neither of them are much interested in balls. All four dogs are fixed.

    My female lab (a rescue, does not have the classic lab temperment) seems much more concerned with status, whereas my male sort of bounces through life without a care in the world. She is territorial; he only barks at stuff because she is barking. Male is SO easy going when meeting a new dog, but for the female it is a Huge Deal. She is very quick to overreact to status-related stuff like a new dog staring, or putting a head over her back, etc.

  8. Margaret says

    Your observation about the much greater variability in social behaviours of domestic dogs as compared to various of the wild counterparts is interesting. One certainly hears (and observes) different breeds of dogs being more aloof or independent of either or both people and dogs than others. And this variance in sociability doesn

  9. says

    I agree completely with your notion that concern about social rank varies wildly among dogs. I think there are some breed tendencies here as well, though individual differences can overwhelm any breed themes. In my house, level of concern about rank (among the dogs) seems to correlate directly to level of anxiety. But I also see client dogs who are slick and relaxed with other dogs, and miserably anxious with people. The range of willingness to resource guard food is huge — there are dogs who will give a bone to another dog, and others who will kill to keep a bone. Yep, huge variation.

  10. Liz F. says

    Just as the social hierarchy of wolves is driven by the animals’ ecological niche, could we say the same of dogs?
    What then is the ecological niche of the domestic dog? Does that vary, too?
    If a dog’s niche is to be dependent on humans in some way, then maybe the variability amongst people is at least part of the cause for great variability in dogs. I appreciate the fact that a dog has the physical potential to vary in size and appearance because of genetics. But I guess I think of social hierarchy as also influenced by environment. So maybe humans have afforded dogs the space here to develop widely differing views on hierarchy, whereas the environment of the wolf prevents much leeway.

    Hooray for Lassie and thanks for another great post.

  11. Kathy says

    I have a 3 dog household. 11 year old Eskie, 5 year old GSD and 4 month old GSD. Eskie is the boss when push comes to shove but she mainlystays above the fray. Puppy wants to be all submissive and pay deference to the 5 year old, licking her face and all which totally drives her crazy as she tells the puppy to get out of her face with vocalizations and teeth. And let the puppy get within even 10 ft of the older one with a bone and there’s a warning growl. But then latter on you will find them laying next to each other or playing together (tooth wrestling I call it) as if they were best buds. And if any dog picks on the puppy at day care the 5 yr old is the first to make sure she is okay. Fascinating.

  12. Lisa says

    A book on the subject? What a great idea! When can we expect that? 😉

    This is such a murky topic. Professional trainers like myself struggle to find a way to explain to dog owners why their dog is not “dominant” without dismissing the issue of relationships altogether. And the information about wolves so often gets mixed in with dogs as if they were one and the same.

    As always, great information. Thank you!

  13. Ignacio says

    Very interesting read, thanks for posting this!

    It does deserve an entire book. Maybe a good idea for an upcoming book? 😉

  14. Pam Lowrey says

    Pip’s behavior when working to get a bone away from Tulip sounds very much like my male (neutered) Basenji’s behavior when he wants something that my female (spayed) mix has. Usually it’s a prime sleeping spot on his favorite couch or chair. He’ll come up to her, whine & paw at her like he wants to play, back off & return, etc… until she gets fed up & leaves. He also has what I like to think of as his “Look! There’s something outside…” move if his pestering fails, in which he races over to the sliding glass door as if he sees or hears something. And as soon as Ginger (my female) gets up off the couch or chair to see what is out there, he races back & plops himself down on the exact spot she vacated. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing the behavior, but whatever is going on in his doggie brain, it is hilarious to watch! :-)

  15. says

    In my experience with fosters over the years, helping out in dog classes from time to time, my own crew of 4, their M.O may become second nature if it works, but the end result may vary depending on the situation, their emotional state and what the other dog or dogs offer in return is my current thought on the subject.

    Daizy my oldest beagle is a foodie, and is not shy to let my other 3 boys know. But at the same time, she will not go in an steal anything from any of the other dogs. They each have their way to let her know they’re not done yet. One will bark once if she’s staring at him, the other just turns his back, and my Aussie puppy just ignores her altogether. Her M. O. may always start off the same voice and body language but varies depending on the relationship she develops with the other dog. (sometimes its a look, stare, bark, big bum wiggle….whatever she thinks will work).

    With puppies, she has to be close by when I am in teaching mode, ie. play the trade you game and actually participates when I trade the chews between each other and acts more”this is how we share”… rather than “mine, mine all mine!!!!” .

    With older foster dogs, she again likes to include herself in showing them how things operate in our household, but it depends on the dog what extent she asserts herself.

    She uses facial, posture and voice signals to let them knows…I incorporated your Feeling Outnumbered book (years ago) which altered her M.O. as well.

    Another dog that got me thinking about this subject was I recently had a foster Jake the beagle, who was said to be the D word by 2 “trainers”(punishment based training) and his previous foster home who were fans of CM (the man was yanking on Jakes leash, telling me “see, you have to dominate them” all the while Jake eyes were shut, lunging forward trying to escape (I grabbed his leash from him and left quickly so he didn’t have a chance to change his mind) I thought he was shutdown and fearful. Two other trainers and the owners of a boarding kennel where he stayed during the week said he was fearful and lacked social skills.

    Supposedly Jake only liked beagles, but to socialize him, I had him assessed to see if whether he was the D word and their theory held up, and one by one each dog he met (approx 5 one by one, we watched for any signs of stress = none and wanted to go into the large open compound to meet the others…. he did all the appropriate meet and greet rituals…and none of them were beagles!

    His bad rap went on and on, including guarding toys and food. I am a gentle soul so punishment type of training is never a consideration (plus doesn’t sound like much fun) so I started just acknowledging anything I liked and rewarded him for it.

    Within a few weeks, he had shed most of the bad raps on his list, including food & toy guarding and lunging at other dogs. We did notice that he was still a bit fearful on leash and preferred to approach dogs from behind and walk with them a bit before greeting them. My human element, dogs he met, and environment altered his M.O.

    I have pictures and video’s posted on the blog I set up for him to show everyone I wasn’t making things up. Once he was settled into his new home (she bought Feisty Fido ) and walked her through all the games to play with her to keep him…she emailed me to add a couple bad raps back to the list so to speak.

    I’m wondering if dogs are similar to us humans; based on our genetics, social environments (how we raise them included) , we’re all individuals and do what we feel is appropriate at the time, but there will always be a wild card thrown in from time to time, variables like different personalities in the people or dogs we meet, stress, sickness or when anxiety kicks in, things go a little sideways unless we have mentors around to keep us on track.

    Sorry for the long reply to this post but this subject has been such a conundrum for so many years, and unfortunately I’ve been hearing more of the “D” stuff come up in everyday conversation than people taking the time to talk about it in a civil manner and actually opening their minds to discover something more complex.

  16. Jeff says

    While I tend to agree that certain breeds of dogs probably are more attentive to social hierarchy than other breeds, my observation is that context is the most important factor. Different dogs care about different things. For example, if one of my five dogs exceeds the speed limit established in the backyard by my dog with the most social freedom, the issue will be addressed with a verbal correction (growling) or a hip slam or chin over. However, if a the same dog steals a treat from the dog with the most social freedom it is likely to go unremarked. I believe context is an under noted factor in working with behavior.

    I wonder if a significant part of the difference in behavior between dogs and wild canids is attributable to male dogs being continuously fertile and female dogs having more estrous cycles than wild canids. As opposed to wild canids being monestrous and the males infertile much of the year. While I understand that we most frequently remove the the reproductive organs (without adequate thought to their endocrine function I would suggest, but that’s a different topic), but the dog’s system is nevertheless wired for greater fertility (higher hormonal levels) and I have to believe that has a behavioral impact.

    Finally, I wonder if some of the behavior difference between dogs and wolves isn’t directly attributable to the difference between a pack animal and a social animal. In a pack animal (wolf), where they will be relying on each other for cooperative hunting and rearing of offspring, each animals fitness and their comparative fitness matters a lot. Therefore, there will be testing and displaying to make certain the whole pack continuously understands each animals fitness and ability. Whereas in dogs, which are “merely” social animals, they are just hanging around together for the affiliative benefits. Since in the wild dogs usually hunt or scavenge solitarily and in the home the primates control the food, comparative fitness just matters less. Therefore, fewer agonistic displays and other testing.

  17. Pam Lowrey says

    There is (at least) one breed of domestic dog with a single estrus cycle each year – the Basenji. My information on this subject is several years old, but unless there have been major changes in the breed, is should still be accurate. Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare the behavior of a “pack”/social grouping of Basenjis with a “pack”/social grouping of another breed? Just wishful thinking on my part, since it would be financially burdensome & there would be so many other factors to consider or control for. :-)

  18. Kelsey says

    What an interesting post! I live with a large female (spayed) Airedale mix and a male (neutered) Basenji, both of whom were formerly stray, and I’ve noticed a real distinction in how much they each seem to care about social orders. My Airedale girl is occasionally a resource guarder, but otherwise has always seemed indifferent to dog social hierarchies: she is friendly to everyone, unconcerned when she’s rebuffed and both gives up and steals toys at will, among other things. From the moment we brought him home, however, the Basenji has been obsessed with figuring out what his role in the social structure is: he will huff at the Airedale if she eats first or walks through doors first, he’ll tie himself in knots trying to access specifically valued toys, he’ll over-mark her marks when we’re on walks, etc (he’ll do the same ‘howl to alert the other dog/steal vacated couch spot’ that Pam’s Basenji does as well!) Meanwhile, my Airedale does whatever she’d like, and is blithely oblivious to the Basenji’s desire to be a little general. My roommate and I have always speculated that this interest in dog hierarchy might be somehow informed by the levels of domestication between the two breeds: the Airedales have been workers/human companions for a good long time, while the Basenjis have non-domesticated relatives right across the ocean: we’ve always wondered if there might be some wild dog sense-memory that was closer to the surface in the Basenji.

    Trisha, I am so glad Lassie’s doing so well!

  19. Pam Lowrey says

    Ginger, my female mix is also part Basenji (as well as terrier & chow, among other things), but her personality & the full Basenji Sampson’s (aka Butthead) are like day & night (with her being day). She seems to love other dogs most of the time & will race up to them, with what seems like unbridaled joy & playful enthusiasm, all smiley & whole-body wagging. I used to do a lot of fostering for local rescue organizations & did notice that after being excited about meeting the foster dogs, she tended to be bossier with the females than the males. There was one time when, out of a litter of 4 puppies (2 male & 2 female), she picked on one of the females, chasing her & hassling her to the point that I decided it would be better for that puppy to go to a different foster home. Butthead, on the other hand, is usually of the attack first, then ask questions school of doggie greeting, up on his toes, stiff-legged, growling & hackles raised all along his back in what looks like a mowhawk, if he sees a dog he hasn’t met before. If he has had a chance to get to know the smell & sight of that dog from a distance (walking somewhat near each other, but not right next to each other) for a little while, he chills out & quits growling &/or doing his mowhawk impression.

    At home with Ginger, however, he turns his head away & doesn’t fight back if she gets pushy or snarky with him, unless it’s over food. And at home, she’s the little general, shoving her way in front of Sampson when someone is paying attention to him (& not her), giving him the evil-eye if he approaches the couch when I’m on it & she’s curled up next to me. Some of the things I thought might play a role in this are that she was the first dog & he was the second – separated by about 2 years. She was also spayed at about 4 months of age & he wasn’t neutered until about 8 or 9 months of age & 1 or 2 months after he arrived in my household.

  20. says

    My personal favorite of the pack hunting wild dogs is the dhole.

    The nineteenth century British ethnologist and natural Brian Houghton Hodgson believed that the dog was descended from the dhole. He had kept a few imprinted dholes as pets, and he found them quite doglike– much more so than imprinted wolves. I have also read accounts of dholes and pariah dogs running together in packs, which is really quite strange. Dholes and domestic dogs aren’t that closely related, but dogs and wolves are. Yet if a dog gets loose in wolf territory, it is more likely to become dinner for the wolves than a pack mate.

  21. Liz says

    i just adopted a cattle dog mix from a shelter about 6 weeks ago. in doing some more background reading on his breed, he was descended from australian wild dogs at some point. he certainly would like to be in charge but has been getting better and better about recognizing my dominance in every way. he has nipped at two children, one at a friend’s house and one at my house. they both had just started to cry/whine. he did a cattle dog nip, where the skin was not broken. he got the baby on its head (sniff sniff lick lick NIP) and the mark went away within half an hour. he got the 3-year-old on her hip, but she was wearing jeans and didn’t even feel it. when the moms picked up their kids, he tried to jump up and nip again–is this prey drive from the wild dog? herding from the cattle dog? i’m so discouraged and wonder if i should just get rid of him, but he’s excellent in every other way and has met many other children without a hint of nipping or aggression. i’m hoping this can respond to training and absolute vigilance on my part. what do you think?

  22. Katie says

    Definitely huge variation among dogs. I own 9 dogs and last fall we lost our only dog who truly cared. He was absolutely status seeking with in a pack and made his desires crystal clear. He lived as an only dog until he was 10 and his owner met me, got married and sucked in to rescue. It was interesting to watch him sort of evolve over the 3 years he spent in a pack. Initially he was so overt and so bold we had to be very careful b/c he would occasionally invite a fight with a new foster. Over time he learned to be much more subtle in his displays. We weren’t sure if there would be any confusion in the pack when we lost him unexpectedly to cancer last fall but all my guys who go with the flow just kind of continued on no big deal. People ALWAYS ask me who our “top dog” is and truly there just isn’t one. At least not in the bold forward way our old boy was.

  23. Amanda Yates says

    Besides the “short-lived” EDF, I feel like I am in a game drought. Nothing is coming out until September!

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