Be Careful When Reading Studies On Animal Behavior


Dog Behavior Counseling
Dog Behavior Counseling

It is interesting to note in this study Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree  that captive wolves performed the tests better or equal to that of dogs raised in human environments/homes. I agree with the suggestion that learning to cooperate with humans and/or in this instance, pay attention will be more successful when these types of behaviors are learned early rather than later, as exemplified by the “stray” dog’s failure rate.

However, it should be noted, these tests were conducted on wild captive wolves, not wolves living in the wild. In addition, even though it is necessary to recognize these tests could not be performed using wild wolves, what the tests also show is that both captive wild animals and domestic animals are easily manipulated through careful training to pay attention and cooperate with humans. My use of manipulation here may be insulting to many animal and/or dog trainers, however, it is my opinion that training of captive wild animals is in fact based on the ability of humans to manipulate and/or control these animals through control and dispensing their basic needs, more specifically ones daily nutritional requirements.  I’m providing a term used to describe human relationships but suggest it is applicable in relationships between humans and other species.  So it’s important to keep in mind some of the terms may seem out-of-place in this discussion.

“Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics.[1] By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious and deceptive. Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can try to persuade patients to change unhealthy habits. Social influence is generally perceived to be harmless when it respects the right of the influenced to accept or reject and is not unduly coercive. Depending on the context and motivations, social influence may constitute underhanded manipulation (Wikipedia).”

To suggest that wild captive animals willingly cooperate and/or pay attention to human gestures because they enjoy our company or prefer living among us is a stretch to imagine. The entire process is facilitated through control of an animal’s most basic needs, food, water, secure environment, access to mates, social access to same species and in some instances the ability and/or ease to be playful.

Otis appears satisfied!
Otis appears satisfied!

It is important to note, that captive wild animals find themselves in these environments for many reasons, one common reason is the wild pet trade. Humans are captivated by wild animals resulting in humans taking them as young pups and finding out later how difficult wild captive animals are to manage for untrained persons. The result is these animals find themselves in wild animal sanctuaries where all basic needs have to be provided by humans. This relationship can seem over time as one of willingness to engage with humans similarly to that of domestic animals and in this example dogs raised in human homes. It is these kinds of relationships that sometimes breakdown resulting in humans being killed and/or seriously injured.

The point should be that training dogs could be greatly simplified if owners would take more responsibility in getting early training and developing their relationships using trust. The same can be said for keepers of traditionally shy wild animals such as wolves. Trust is established by creating cooperative animal relationships through sharing of resources while avoiding establishing relationships through competition.  Marker training, using positive reinforcement is an example of  a cooperative relationship.

It’s also important to note that training dogs and wild captive animals are not entirely the same. One purpose for training captive wild animals is to facilitate their care and another purpose is to exploit them for monetary purposes like that done at Seaworld and other animal parks.  The purpose for training dogs can also be for multiple reasons that can also include exploitation. However, domestic dogs do not need the same level of care and keeping of wild animals.  The purpose for training domestic dogs requires learning basic rules and boundaries that enable them to adapt to living with humans.  The learning of basic rules and boundaries suggested in this study underscores the importance of early learning for successful acquisition.

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