My friends from the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico paid us a visit at the Cesar Millan offices in Los Angeles. They had just returned from Alaska, where they rescued a wolf from a terrible situation. It was an honor and a privilege to meet this wolf and made me think about how much we can learn from the wolf, as the animals and species from which dogs descended.
I’ve talked about this many times. When we relate to our dogs, especially when trying to correct an unwanted behavior or issue, it’s important to think of them first as Animal, then as Species (dog), then as Breed (Shepherd, Beagle, Husky), and last and least important as Name. To have a happy, balanced dog is to respect these qualities about them. What do these words mean to you?
Animal. When I think of “Animal,” I think nature, the wilderness, and freedom. I think of wolf packs and their territories, which extend for miles. Animals live in the present and life is simple. It’s about Instinct and Survival – the basic needs of shelter, food, water, and mating. Humans are animals too, but we are the only species that dwell on the past, worry about the future, and actively fear death.
Species. Dogs as a Species were descended from wolves, and are so similar that their DNA is almost identical. This is why we can learn so much from wolves in the wild, watching their interaction, their communication, and their pack orientation. Species, on a deeper level then, is about Psychology and Pack Orientation, feeling certain about a pack leader, communicating, and experiencing the world through their nose, eyes, and ears. This is also where the fulfillment formula comes into play – dogs need jobs. They need Exercise, Discipline, then Affection. For wolves, their job is the hunt, the search for food and water, expanding their territory, migrating miles and miles every day. Imagine, then, a dog who only gets to walk a couple of blocks around their neighborhood a couple of times a week. Their frustration is innate and they develop behavioral issues to compensate.
Breed. Breed is about Genetics and is a human creation. Over hundreds and maybe thousands of years, wolves were bred and transformed and transformed again to become the variety of breeds we have. In a recent study published in the Public Library of Science-Biology, researchers have found that differences among dog breeds can be defined through only seven genetic regions, making each breed much closer in character that previously thought.
Breed represents the program, or characteristics that we have “trained” them to perform – the human-desired tasks, like sheepdogs herding, bloodhounds searching, and Border Collies stalking. But, we need to keep in mind that even though certain breeds contain these characteristics, the breed is only something to be aware of when considering your dog’s innate needs. More important, is their inborn energy level. This varies within the breed, and even the litter.
Name. Finally, Name. Whether you call your dog Fido, Sam, Fiona, or simply “dog,” they do not know the difference, nor need to. Name is a human creation that we condition the dog to learn. We project personality on the dogs, but what “personality” is to a human doesn’t exist in dog psychology. We interpret behavior as personality. Many humans are disappointed to learn this, but recognizing these four categories is the first step to correcting behavior and having a happy, balanced dog.
What does your dog’s “personality” say about you as a pack leader? Tell us in the comments.