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A popular belief among dog lovers is that much can be learned about dogs by observing wolves. For instance, wolves live in packs and dogs tend to form packs. Wolves chase and nip things and dogs tend to chase and nip things. Wolves have hair and dogs have hair. It is obvious that dogs and wolves are identical - NOT!

There is little dispute over the fact that dogs are descended from wolves. Fossil evidence indicates that dogs were domesticated about 10,000 years ago. Since then we have bred them into hundreds of separate breeds. Each of these breeds was developed for a purpose. Hounds chase game while pointers freeze and point at birds. Terriers dig underground after their quarry while herding breeds chase cows and sheep. Few of these animals look much like wolves, but many people assume that they still behave like wolves.

A common practice among dog/wolf experts is to grab a dog by the scruff of the neck and shake it severely as a means of punishment. This is done because mother dogs supposedly shake their puppies to discipline them. Some experts promote the practice of rolling the animal on its back until it submits, in order to establish dominance. Another batch of experts suggest biting the dog's muzzle in order to establish dominance, because dominant wolves do this to exert their authority. By imitating these behaviors, according to some trainers, we can learn to communicate better with our dogs.

Before you begin a wrestling match with your dog, you may want to ask a few questions about these practices. All of these methods are assumed to be valid because they imitate the way wolves communicate with each other. This process of teaching naturally by speaking the dog's own language sounds reasonable, but what if your dog doesn't speak wolf? The first glitch in this theory is that it assumes that all dogs are alike, and that all of them are equally wolflike. Neither science nor casual observation confirm this assumption.

Rather than believing this concept that all dogs are behaviorally alike, the opposite is far more believable. Kennel clubs and breeders assume that the various breeds of dogs are different from each other, and scientific research confirms this. The odds that your dog is perfectly wolflike are slim. This can lead to dramatic problems when you try to speak wolf language with your dog. While your Chow Chow may be missing the particular gene that allows him to understand why you are shaking him roughly by the scruff, he may still possess the gene that tells him to snap at your face.

The other common tool of wolf talkers is gripping a dog by the neck and forcing it to the ground. This is supposed to assert a leadership position over the animal. This technique is the result of inaccurate observation. Dominant wolves do not go around grabbing other wolves with their forepaws (Hey, look ma, no "hands.") They intimidate their pack mates through bared teeth, growls and bites. Even when they use a body slam to knock another animal to the ground, they do not pin them there like professional wrestlers. The secret of this relationship is that the dominant wolf does not physically hold the other animal to the ground, the subordinant wolf voluntarily submits. Unless you can create the same visual threats that a wolf can, you cannot imitate this relationship. The truth is that this method does not imitate White Fang as much as it imitates Hulk Hogan.

Another difficulty with this theory, is that it flirts with the the more dangerous aspects of wolf behavior. Teaching your dog that wolf-like struggles for dominance are acceptable, is risky. While you may be able to control your 100 pound Akita, other guests and family members may not. If your dog is accustomed to your wolf-style dominance over him he may think it is perfectly permissable for him to dominate lesser pack members - such as children and elderly aunts.

It is human nature to try and develop rules to explain reality. Attempts to explain dogs through their similarities to wolves are examples of this. Before you try to communicate with your dog as though he were a wolf, consider safer and more conventional methods such as positive reinforcement-oriented training. If you base your training program on the belief that Rover is a wolf in dog's clothing you may be surprised - he may not understand the call of the wild.                  (c)Gary Wilkes