Dogs: Psychology and Communication

Topics: Dog, Gray Wolf, Proximate and ultimate causation Pages: 11 (4316 words) Published: December 3, 2011
The Communicative Social Skills of Man’s Best Friend
In a rhetorical sense, dogs are no strangers to humans. This is quite obvious, as man and dog have shared a long and close history with each other. Dogs were first domesticated 15,000 years ago from the gray wolf (Scott & Fuller, 1974). Although the domestication of dogs has not been formally documented in the history books of man, there is reliable empirical data to support the origin of the domestic dog from wolves. Mitochondrial DNA sequence variations from hundreds of domestic dogs were compared and the data resulted in a monophyletic group of dogs nested within a clade of gray wolves. This suggests that there is an origin of dogs resulting from a single gene pool (Savolainen, Luo, & Leitner, 2002). Man has shaped the evolution of the domestic dog via artificial selection, resulting in vast variations and similarities among dogs. Because all dogs share a common ancestor, there are bound to be some similarities in all domestic dogs. At the same time, there are also bound to be many differences among dog breeds as well. In fact, there are over 450 different breeds of dogs (Scott et al. 1974). Different breeds of dogs exhibit phenotypic aesthetic differences, behavioral differences, and even cognitive differences. Nonetheless, there are still some characteristics that were selected for in most dogs. Such a characteristic is communication with humans. Undoubtedly wolves, dogs, and other species such as orangutans show communication to some extent. Communication is vital for the survival of the individual and the species, especially if they are social species living in groups. Without the ability to communicate, the animals would not be able to form social groups, hunting groups and/or other activities where communication is necessary. Communication is a crucial trait for dogs specifically because of the close proximity to which humans and dogs live. Dogs must not only be able to communicate with each other, but also the humans. Without the ability of interspecies communication, dogs are at a severe disadvantage that may inhibit their ability to survive in a domestic setting. Through the process of domestication, man selected for special skills in dogs to comprehend human communicative behaviors. Dog’s exceptional ability to follow human-given cues is a result of the domestication of dogs and the artificial selection of communicative traits. This evolved interspecies communication supports the notion, in a literal sense, that dogs are no strangers to human. Humans controlled the evolution of dogs, shaping them to be exactly what we want them to be. As a result, man created his best friend. To start the discussion, we will first look at the modes of communication of dogs, starting off with barking. The action of barking is very interesting to researchers because barking is found readily in dogs and rarely in wolves (Scott & Fuller, 1965). This behavioral difference has led researchers to believe that barking must be a behavioral trait that arose as a result of the domestication of dogs. There are many hypotheses for the prevalence of barking in domestic dogs. One hypothesis suggests that humans may have directly selected for barking, whereas another hypothesis suggests that humans may have indirectly selected for barking by selecting for other traits such as tameness (Coppinger & Feinstein, 1991). However, not all dogs readily bark. Barking was selected for in some dog breeds and was selected against in other breeds. For example, humans have selected against barking in hunting dogs, whereas barking has been selected for in guard dogs (Yin, 2002). In the latter case, barking is imperative because it the primary mode in which a dog can communicate with humans, by bringing our attention to a certain stimuli such as an intruder. The artificial selection seen in dogs represents ultimate causes for improved dog interspecies communication and an ultimate cause...
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