Why Don’t Free Ranging Dogs Live In Packs?

Question: If wolves hunt in packs—and if hunting begat the dog—why don’t free ranging dogs live in packs?

Answer: Dogs don’t form functional packs because dogs were domesticated from wolves.

The fact that free ranging dogs don’t form working packs is cited by proponents of dog-as-scavenger theory and modern learning theorists as evidence that dogs were fundamentally changed from wolves by way of neotony, the retention of infantile traits into adulthood. In the dog-as-scavenger theory, the single trait of approachability was selected for when humans began living in settlements and concentrating their refuse in one spot. Those wolves who were the last to leave and the first to return when a villager took out the trash received the most food and thus generated the most offspring. As has been demonstrated in a Russian Fox Breeding experiment, by simply selecting for approachability a domesticated version can emerge in a short time rather than taking the eons that had been previously thought. What’s most compelling about the Russian experiment was that a shift in a single behavioral trait, initiated a wholesale shift in a suite of physical traits. As foxes became tamer and easier for humans to handle, their bodies, features and fur became as puppy like as their friendly dispositions. Thus in the dog-as-scavenger theory, the domestic dog is predisposed to turn to humans as surrogate care givers just as young wolves turn toward their canine elders.

But one obvious problem with the village dump/scavenger theory is why then haven’t domesticated versions of foxes and coyotes, not to mention other dump scavengers such as rats, bears, raccoons, skunks, crows, ravens, seagulls, etc., etc., been domesticated through the same process that tamed the wolf? Why aren’t there fox-dogs and coyote-dogs in pet stores just as there are wolf-dogs? And another even bigger problem with this theory is that there is mounting archaeological evidence of dogs having been domesticated thousands of years before humans began living in villages and concentrating their refuse in dumps. So what makes a dog a dog can’t be solely the result of scavenging, rather it’s more logical that this essential trait remains rooted in what makes a wolf-a-wolf.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the phenomenon of neotony is intertwined with the process of domestication. I think that’s the main takeaway of the Russian Fox breeding experiment. But we should really sharpen the question from–What does neotony have to do with domestication?–to–What does neotony have to do with HUNTING?

Answer: Wolves live in packs but they hunt in groups and domestication selected for the hunt, not for the pack.

When I was developing my method during the seventies and eighties through an immediate-moment manner of analysis, hunting was in those years being represented by all the experts as something very complex, planned ambushes, working in concert under the direction of a leader, sending out hunting parties to get food to bring back for the young, moving from site to site to scope out hunting areas, defending prime zones from other packs of wolves and balancing this against the need to intercept a migratory prey always on the move. But in my experiences with police dogs and as I began working with German dog trainers it soon struck me that the dogs that were most puppy-like in their work, were the combination of two interesting traits, they were the most uninhibited in their bite work, and they were also the most sensual. They were very simple minded in this regard and thus they loved to muscle up people, sharking around them and press in for rub-a-dubs. And due to this wonderful combination the behaviors I wanted to track down a criminal, hold the bad guy at bay if he surrendered before the handler was on the scene, or bite as hard as possible if that was warranted, in other words all the behaviors that we see wolves performing during the complexities of how they hunt, were likewise the function of a puppy-like mind and disposition. Hunting wasn’t complicated, it was fundamentally, as paradoxically as this might sound, the function of an innocent and naive mind.

This led me to make a distinction between the pack and a group. The pack was the adult mind that displaced the puppy perspective due to life under a high degree of tension. This was the building up of an emotional charge that had two diametrically opposed impacts on the behavior of the individual. On the one hand to escape the pressure of pack life the wolf would be compelled to go off and make contact along the path of highest resistance, i.e., hunt a large, dangerous prey. This squared up perfectly with my observation that dogs that were dominated as puppies by owners and trainers became more aggressive towards people as they became older. But this was a kind of defensive aggression of an emotional overload variety, it offered relief from pack life, but was qualitatively  different from joie-de-joie YaBaDaBa-Doo let-me-at-‘im type of aggression I was seeing in the best police dogs, and so that once  the fight was over there were no residual hard feelings, the criminal cuffed in the front seat with the dog now calm and relaxed in the back, and this was back in the days before cages separating the dog from the front were standard operating procedure.

In other words, the functional purpose of the pack instincts are to 1) target a large obstacle of resistance in order to relieve a historical imprint of social pressure, and 2) TO LIMIT COOPERATION. A canine inculcated in the pack instincts would feel attracted and simultaneously inhibited against especially intimidating objects of resistance. Thus it would become opportunistic, “tuned” to look for the flawed specimen in the herd. It wouldn’t unduly pressure a healthy prey animal and it would avoid unnecessary risk of injury to itself. Meanwhile this was exactly what I wanted to avoid in a police dog and which brought me to the German concept of Drive. I wanted a police dog aroused and uninhibited by the biggest, baddest, thug high on crack and who is not going to feel pain or fear when the dog is on him. The old style of training looked good on the surface with snarls, hackles and blood curdling growls and slashing bites, but when things strayed too far from the parameters the dog was conditioned to respond under, in other words, when the dog was working in the wide open spaces and DIDN’T FEEL PRESSURIZED, he tended to go into conflict and my control over such a dog became difficult if he was strong natured, or he fell apart altogether if he was more sensitive.

In short hunting reduces the adult wolf to an infantile state. The combative moose, musk ox or bison, attracts and pressurizes the adult mind of the wolf, regressing it in its emotional memory bank back to its earliest litter experiences. And given its alignment and synchronization about a common object of attraction, just as it once was as a group aligned and synchronized around its mother’s nipples, the puppy-minded wolf begins to feel uninhibited and will experience a total release if and when their quarry becomes con-fused. In the hunt it is regressed from seeing the prey as an intimidating elder, to seeing the prey as a flow rendering MOTHER, who once brought to ground, then ingestion can begin.

When an individual is feeling in the flow, there is no limit on what it is capable of doing. It can act without inhibition, and yet be easy to DEFLECT. This is because a group as opposed to a pack is characterized by an emotional state of alignment around a common object-of-attention, something that puppies are innately inclined to do far more than adults, and something dogs are more inclined to do than wolves. (In fact the very core of this, the brain-to-gut act of ingestion inducing a whole body state of sensuality is universal to all species of animals, but is retained into adulthood by wolves via the hunt.) A pack is characterized by a nervous state of tension around disputed objects of interest. This has been misinterpreted by the scavenger/learning theorists as meaning that a dominance hierarchy is predicated on access to resources. But this immediately brings up an internal contradiction. On the one hand the village-dump-dog school of thought says dogs are fundamentally different from wolves, but then on the other hand, they say that a dominance hierarchy is not about rank, but access to resources with human the giver of resources. In other words, dogs are in fact just like wolves. Of course they’re half right, it is about access to a resource, i.e. a large dangerous prey that no one individual can obtain on their own. Hence the group.

The tension over resources in the pack really reveals is that these pack instincts are pressurizing the puppy into an adult point of view which will limit its capacity to cooperate. It’s up to the prey to reawaken the puppy mind. And this also explains why strong socially confident dogs do not guard resources. This is because guarding a resource is an indication of insecurity, being near the resource gives the fearful dog instinctive permission to vent its build up of fear when another comes close.

I would predict that if we were to reintroduce “the charge” we would see the pack come back because that information is not lost in the modern dog’s makeup. The pack is a paralyzed version of the group, so all we have to do is reverse the neotony phenomenon by reintroducing the harsh calculus of the wild. If a free ranging group of dogs were denied the food of the dump around which they have aggregated, and were a large, dangerous prey available that could pressurize them, the weak among these prey becoming unnerved by their syncopated approach, we would in short order see a functional pack emerge, complete with carrying food back to the young at the den, and little by little all the communal nuance of wolf pack life coming back on line as well. What’s missing in the domesticated dog is “the charge” that instinctive bolt of lightening that triggers the survival instincts. Fortunately, that has been mitigated by the hunt so that dogs are happiest when aligned and syncopated with us, rather than limited.  I lifted the following from a “Dog Read” discussion group, wherein a guest author is arguing that dogs are fundamentally unrelated to wolves due to the scavenging theory. But a reader writes:

“Regarding packs… in the 1960’s I lived in an urban area in Quezon City (Philippines). There were groups of dogs that roamed the streets and appeared to have formed affiliations based on geography. Each street appeared to have its own pack. If a stray dog wandered onto a street where he didn’t “belong”, the pack on that street came together to attack and/or drive that dog out. The dogs also challenged people at times, but I’m not sure what the circumstances were. I was in high school at the time and really didn’t know anything about dog behavior. However, we humans did observe aggressive behavior from these “packs” of dogs and we believed they posed a threat to us and other animals.”

I don’t believe it would take much to reverse the tide, in fact we see the signature of the pack instincts in problem behavior every day. In the right environment, with the right prey animal, it would all come back.

Domestication selected against the pack instincts with its attendant friction, and for the group dynamic with its attendant flow. The degree of cooperation that can be found in the pack so as to limit violence, is due to the group dynamic that evolved through the hunt. The pack instincts limit the wolf’s capacity to adapt beyond its specific environmental niche whereas the group dynamic that was amplified exponentially through domestication, makes the dogs’ capacity to adapt to our complex human ways unlimited. And it is possible to select for the group over the pack, because the group comes first, the pack instincts are emotionally paralyzed variants of this underlying internal architecture of the mind. We can neotonize coyotes, foxes, hyenas, African Wild Hunting dogs, raccoons, bears, or ravens all we want, but because they didn’t evolve to hunt in a neotonus manner, i.e. align and sync with each other via a sensual tactile state as 100% displacement of the oral urge into the body, when under a high enough rate of change, their adult niche-specific set of genetically rooted reflexes will take over and that’s will prove to be the limit on their capacity to adapt.

Published May 22, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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2 responses to “Why Don’t Free Ranging Dogs Live In Packs?”

  1. John says:

    That’s a great article Kevin, some of these posts pop up and there is just so much to take from it and go over the information, its all here but because of the conditioning laid down for years of how dogs are perceived in society it’s so hard to erase the commonly held beliefs and start afresh , it’s seeing the world through different lenses , filing in the gaps with information gathered through NDT through posts such as this. Thanks

  2. Emily says:

    Thank you for not just falling in line with the “dogs are scavengers” theory and raising important points. I personally believe that we don’t know enough about the wolf to begin to think we can discount dog behavior from being wolfish. For instance, what IS a wolf ‘pack’. We know that coyotes also form packs, but in certain circumstances they go back to solitary behavior. Wolves form packs one time of the year, then go separate ways and hunt alone the rest of the year… due on availability and type of food. Coyotes show the same. Even foxes have been shown to work in family units for hunting, one flushing the rabbit into the other’s waiting jaws for instance, usually related individuals (I won’t forget the fox yearlings who ran around me and a date one year checking us out in a group of 3. They were hunting, they were new to this ‘parents won’t bring food anymore’ deal. But they were working in cooperation.) This pack behavior isn’t as seen in city dwellings because the food sources are different (mice, rats, occasional opossum, cats, garbage) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist where there’s a reason to form one. Coyote packs are almost unheard of in cities. Foxes rarely stay in their family groups in cities. But in the mountains, countryside, prairie, these behaviors are seen.

    So I raise the question whether it’s the problems of forming a group in a city rather than “it’s not their natural behavior”. In a city, 5 dogs get attention faster than 1. It’s harder to move around. Harder to get food. Harder to hide.

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