Dog behavior

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Dogs roughhousing.

Dog behavior refers to the collection of behaviors by the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris, and is believed to be influenced by genetic, social, situational and environmental causes.

Evolution/Domestication/Co-evolution with humans[edit]

The origin of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris or Canis familiaris) is not clear. Nuclear DNA evidence points to a single domestication 11,000-16,000 years ago that predates the rise of agriculture and implies that the earliest dogs arose along with hunter-gatherers and not agriculturists.[1] Mitochondrial DNA evidence points to a domestication 18,800-32,100 years ago and that all modern dogs are most closely related to ancient wolf fossils that have been found in Europe,[2][3] compared to earlier hypotheses which proposed origins in Eurasia as well as Eastern Asia.[4][5][6] The 2 recent genetic analyses indicate that the dog is not a descendant of the extant (i.e. living) gray wolf but forms a sister clade, that the ancestor is an extinct wolf-like canid and the dog's genetic closeness to modern wolves is due to admixture.[1][7]

Domestication is an evolutionary process and how dogs became domesticated is not clear, however the two main hypothesis are self-domestication[8][9][10] and human domestication.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Social behavior[edit]

Dominance and pack mentality[edit]

Submissive displays mirror dominant displays and include adopting such a posture that is physically lower than other dogs as crouching, rolling over on the back and exposing the abdomen, lowering the tail (sometimes to the point of tucking it between the legs) flattening the ears, averting gaze, nervously licking or swallowing, dribbling urine, and freezing or fleeing when other dogs are encountered. [citation needed]



Play between dogs usually involves several behaviours that are often seen in aggressive encounters, for example, nipping, biting, growling and biting. It is therefore important for the dogs to place these behaviours in the context of play, rather than aggression. Dogs signal their intent to play with a range of behaviours including a "play-bow", "face-paw" "open-mouthed play face" and postures inviting the other dog to chase the initiator. Similar signals are given throughout the play bout to maintain the context of the potentially aggressive activities.[17]

From a young age, dogs engage in play with one another. Dog play is made up primarily of mock fights. It is believed that this behavior, which is most common in puppies, is training for important behaviors later in life. Research on puppy play has shown that puppies do not engage equally in both dominant and submissive roles in fights; rather, puppies will tend to start play fights with weaker puppies they believe they can dominate.[18]

Additionally, puppies will intervene in play engaged by other pairs. In these situations, the puppies overwhelmingly aid the dominant dog. Puppies do not show reciprocity in interventions, suggesting that they prefer to be dominant in a fight, and are being opportunistic in the short-term. In the long-term, intervention may aid the puppies in learning coordination.

A common behavior among domesticated dogs is chasing their own tails. Researchers are not completely certain why dogs chase their own tail, however some research studies found a link between tail-chasing and high cholesterol. This is simply because unexercised dogs have more pent up energy and will attempt to alleviate themselves of this by tail chasing or other unwanted, but "cathartic" behaviors such as destroying things and excessive barking. A study found that when dogs experience an increase in activity of hormones tied to the "fight or flight" response, it causes dogs to chase their tails more often.[19] It is now known however, that it is a mechanism for the dog to burn off its own excess, not necessarily playful, energy and is usually indicative of a lack of an appropriate amount of mental and physical stimulation.


The motivation for a dog to play with another dog is distinct from that of a dog playing with a human. Dogs walked together with opportunities to play with one another, play with their owners with the same frequency as dogs being walked alone. Dogs in households with two or more dogs play more often with their owners than dogs in households with a single dog, indicating the motivation to play with other dogs does not substitute for the motivation to play with humans.[20]

It is a common misconception that winning and losing games such as "tug-of-war" and "rough-and-tumble" can can influence a dog's dominance relationship with humans. Rather, the way in which dogs play indicates their temperament and relationship with their owner. Dogs that play rough-and-tumble are more amenable and show lower separation anxiety than dogs which play other types of games, and dogs playing tug-of-war and "fetch" are more confident. Dogs which start the majority of games are less amenable and more likely to be aggressive.[21]

Playing with humans can affect the cortisol levels of dogs. In one study, the cortisol responses of police dogs and border guard dogs was assessed after playing with their handlers. The cortisol concentrations of the police dogs increased, whereas the border guard dogs' hormone levels decreased. The researchers noted that during the play sessions, police officers were disciplining their dogs, whereas the border guards were truly playing with them, i.e this included bonding and affectionate behaviours. They commented that several studies have shown that behaviours associated with control, authority or aggression increase cortisol, whereas play and affiliative behaviour decrease cortisol levels.[22]

Separation (anxiety)[edit]

Dogs value the presence of the others in their "pack" and are sometimes distressed if separated. Common unwanted reactions when a dog is separated from the "pack" in captivity are barking, howling, digging, and chewing. It is worth noting however, that in the wild, none of this behavior occurs when a leader departs, but is more similar to behavior exhibited when a more subordinate member of the pack is not present. This suggests that separation anxiety occurs because the owner fails to leave in a calm and assertive manner as an Alpha would, but rather an excitable unstable one more similar to a subordinate pack member such as a cub/puppy or young wolf/dog. This is easy to visualize from a pack members point of view. If the Alpha male gets up and leaves without signaling for anyone to follow, the pack members calmly remain where they are, trusting in the Alpha wolf's judgment to depart. If a cub/young wolf was somehow separated(wanders away, falls out of the den, grabbed by an eagle etc.), all the more dominant pack members, including the Alpha would be noticeably disturbed and immediately try to locate the individual. Domestic housebound dogs are limited to what they can do however, and the frustration escalates into anxiety which, if not handled appropriately, includes all the before mentioned behaviors, further highlighting the necessity of maintaining a strong leadership position with domestic dogs.


The media has portrayed many examples of animals behaving empathically and with altruistic-like behavior. One example is Eve, a Rottweiler who pulled her paraplegic owner, Kathie Vaughan, to safety after the owner's truck unexpectedly filled with noxious gas and exploded.[23] Many researchers have started studying empathic-behavior and have developed many ways of testing empathy in dogs.

There are many theories as to why dogs would have evolved empathic behavior. However, it is widely accepted that it was out of survival. A wolf following man for food would need to be able to closely read mans' mood from subtle human body language such as posture and facial expressions. The hungry wolves would need know when to appropriately approach and when to back off. As the proximity of the two species increased, this slowly evolved into the hypersensitive ability to read humans and act accordingly, that we see today.


Canine personality is defined as the combination of characteristics or qualities that form a canine's individual distinctive character. Personality in canines refers to the behavioral characteristics that describes and accounts for consistent patterns of normal behavior that are stable across time and situations. It is made up of characteristic patterns, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Their personalities arise within and they remain fairly constant throughout a canine's life. A canine's personality is made up of a combination of characteristics or qualities that form a distinctive character which is passed down from parents to their young pup. [1]

Canine personalities have a genetic contribution which has to do with the complex personality phenotypes (set of observable characteristics) which are thought to be influenced by many environmental factors and multiple genes (Genetic makeup). As of now, only a handful of genes have been linked to personality traits in humans, however canines offer a promising approach to detect the genetic components of complex behavioral traits. Canine's personality and social behavior comes from pressure against selection and have gone through many generations. In canines, a large proportion of their personality is due to their inherited genes, so there is no question that genes play a role in the behavior of domestic canines, but a canine's individual environmental history plays a major role in shaping its behavior over its lifetime. From the time a puppy is welcomed into a household of humans that puppy becomes completely dependent of the humans to become their new caretaker for all of their needs. [2]

Canines are likely to have been the first animals to be tamed and as such have shared a common environment with humans for many years. Humans have become interested in this animal and its personalities because canine personality research has been inspired by a number of common concerns. Some of those concerns are that potential canine owners look to find canines that are similar to their own self so they mesh well in each other's lifestyles. Also animal shelters and other agencies have an interest in using personality traits to improve the success of the adoption process and to direct care to the animals most in need of attention. There is a test called C-BARQ or (Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire) that contains eleven dimensions for canine friends, and eight for guide dogs. For puppies, aggressiveness and submission were the most consistent traits while activity, fearfulness, sociability, and responsiveness to training were the least consistent.[3]

One important canine behavior that is very important to humans is their ability to attend and respond to human social gestures and cues. Owners of canines find it very important to have a canine that can learn visual and verbal cues that they show. Most owners prefer a canine that is easily trained such as Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Standard Poodle, and Border Collies. Humans want to become familiar with canine personalities because canines are very useful to humans. Humans use canines for hunting, herding, sledding, rescue missions, police dogs, drug findings, guiding the blind, as well as a lovely companion at home. The evolutionary development and diversification of canines is interesting because, instead of natural selection by the environment, humans are artificially selecting and are responsible for the hundreds of canine breeds that are domestic and exist today. [4]

Sexual behavior[edit]

Dominance and submission in a pack[edit]

While dominance and submission are observed throughout the animal world, it is by understanding the role of the behaviors within the pack that we truly able to see how wolves and dogs communicate.

Properly balanced dogs can interact with unfamiliar dogs of any size and shape and understand how to communicate.

Social hierarchies are established along a continuum of dominance and submission. In wolves, dominant behaviors have been misinterpreted as personality traits that determine the individual's place in a linear hierarchy in the pack. In contrast, Mech (see recent research, above) argues that packs are family units, and that the "alpha" of a pack does not change through struggles for dominance. Rather, he argues that the family unit serves to raise the young, which then disperse to pair up with other dispersed wolves to form a breeding pair and a pack of their own. This however, may simply be seen as an argument in semantics, as the traditional view of linear hierarchy is how a familial pack is run. When members mature, leave and start their linear hierarchies, they are simply part of a new hierarchy.

Research on canine familiaris has also questioned whether dominance is a personality trait, when in fact it has long been proven to be a basic physiological trait of pack animals. Svartberg and colleagues (2002) gathered behavioral data from 15,000 dogs of 164 breeds in attempt to identify major personality traits. In a scientifically questionable approach that imposes Human Psychology on a Canine mind, the authors performed a factor analysis of their data, and identified five major traits: "Playfulness," "Curiosity/Fearlessness," "Chase-proneness," "Sociability," "Aggressiveness." A similar analysis by Goddard and Beilharz (1985) revealed two major factors in social behavior: "Confidence," and "Aggression–dominance."

Studies suggest that dominance may not be a personality trait itself but rather be a behavioral epiphenomenon that is composed of such underlying personality traits as aggressiveness, confidence, and curiosity.

Human interaction[edit]

Research has shown that there are individual differences in the interactions between dogs and their human masters that have significant effects on dog behavior. For instance, Topal and colleagues (1997) have shown that the type of relationship between dog and master, characterized as either companionship or working relationship, significantly affected the dog's performance on a cognitive problem-solving task. They speculate that companion dogs have a more dependent relationship with their owners, and look to them to solve problems. In contrast, working dogs are more independent.


A USAF attack dog in training.

Dog attacks are attacks on humans by feral or domestic dogs. With the close association of dogs and humans in daily life (largely as pets), dog attacks—with injuries from very minor to significant, and severe to fatal—are not uncommon. Attacks on the serious end of the spectrum have become the focus of increasing media and public attention in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.[24]

It is estimated that two percent of the US population, 4.7 million people, are bitten each year.[25] In the 1980s and 1990s the US averaged 17 fatalities per year, while in the 2000s this has increased to 26.[26] 77% of dog bites are from the pet of family or friends, and 50% of attacks occur on the dog owner's property.[26]

There is considerable debate on whether or not certain breeds of dogs are inherently more prone to commit attacks causing serious injury (i.e., so driven by instinct and breeding that, under certain circumstances, they are exceedingly likely to attempt or commit dangerous attacks). Regardless of the breed of the dog, it is recognized that the risk of dangerous dog attacks can be greatly increased by human actions (such as neglect or fight training) or inactions (as carelessness in confinement and control).

A person bitten by an animal potentially carrying parvovirus or rabies virus should consult a medical doctor immediately. A bite victim may also incur serious bacterial infections of the bone called osteomyelitis which can become life-threatening if untreated, whether or not the animal has parvovirus or rabies virus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Freedman, Adam H.; Gronau, Ilan; Schweizer, Rena M.; Ortega-Del Vecchyo, Diego; Han, Eunjung; Silva, Pedro M.; Galaverni, Marco; Fan, Zhenxin; Marx, Peter; Lorente-Galdos, Belen; Beale, Holly; Ramirez, Oscar; Hormozdiari, Farhad; Alkan, Can; Vilà, Carles; Squire, Kevin; Geffen, Eli; Kusak, Josip; Boyko, Adam R.; Parker, Heidi G.; Lee, Clarence; Tadigotla, Vasisht; Siepel, Adam; Bustamante, Carlos D.; Harkins, Timothy T.; Nelson, Stanley F.; Ostrander, Elaine A.; Marques-Bonet, Tomas; Wayne, Robert K.; Novembre, John (16 January 2014). "Genome Sequencing Highlights Genes Under Selection and the Dynamic Early History of Dogs". PLOS Genetics. PLOS Org. 10 (1): e1004016. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004016. PMC 3894170. PMID 24453982. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
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  3. ^ Wolpert, Stuart (November 14, 2013), "Dogs likely originated in Europe more than 18,000 years ago, UCLA biologists report", UCLA News Room, retrieved December 10, 2014
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  18. ^ C. Ward (2007) Doctoral Dissertation
  19. ^
  20. ^ Rooney, N.J., Bradshaw, J.W.S. and Robinson, I.H. (2000). "A comparison of dog–dog and dog–human play behaviour". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 66 (3): 235–248.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Rooney, N.J. and Bradshaw, Jv.W.S. (2003). "Links between play and dominance and attachment dimensions of dog-human relationships". Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 6 (2): 67–94. doi:10.1207/S15327604JAWS0602_01.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Horváth, Z., Dóka, A. and Miklósi A. (2008). "Affiliative and disciplinary behavior of human handlers during play with their dog affects cortisol concentrations in opposite directions". Hormones and Behavior. 54 (1): 107–114.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ Bond, Annie (5 May 2005). "The Dog Hero: A True Animal Story". care2. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  24. ^ Reuters (2004-10-13). "Stray dog pack attacks Albanian town". IOL. Retrieved 2008-01-21. An Albanian town had to call in police and hunters after a pack of 200 stray mountain dogs attacked at least nine people. Headed by a clearly identifiable leader, the snarling pack overran the main street of the small northern town of Mamurras, its mayor said on Wednesday. "Even in the movies I have never seen a horde of 200 stray dogs from the mountains attacking people in the middle of a town," Anton Frroku said on Wednesday. He said the dogs bit at least nine people, aged from 20 to 60, dragging them to the ground and inflicting serious wounds. {{cite news}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  25. ^ Questions and Answers about Dog Bites
  26. ^ a b Statistics about dog bites in the USA and elsewhere

External links[edit]