The dog delusion: why your mutt might be smarter than he looks
In other words, we’re suckers for this gazing thing? “Yeah: ‘They’re hijacking a pleasure pathway,’ is a more evolutionary way to say it,” he says.
At the moment, the “alpha male” theory of dog training demands that the owner establish firm control of the animal using a sharp tone of voice and a certain physical stance. Hare’s findings suggest this approach is misguided.
“Nobody has evaluated those training techniques in a systematic way, so I can’t say they work, and I can’t say they don’t work,” he says. “What I can say is that the rationale behind them is faulty. The rationale is, well, wolves are this very despotic species and the reason we can’t train our dogs is we’re not using the pack structure that’s observed in wolves.”
But wolves – even those raised around humans – are almost impossible to train. And research on feral dogs show that their packs are nothing like wolf packs.
“Feral dogs form packs in which there is no real hierarchy. Everybody follows the friendliest dog, not the one that’s the most aggressive and physically dominant.” Be nicer to your dog, in other words, and it might be more obedient.
Being nice to dogs you don’t know is another matter. That’s why German shepherds, pit-bulls and other restricted breeds are legally obliged to wear a muzzle in the park, right? Wrong. Hare is adamant that breed-specific rules make no scientific sense.
“If you go to the literature on dog aggression, there’s not a single paper that can show that any one breed is more aggressive than the other,” he says. “There’s no quantitative data suggesting that bull terrier breeds are in any way more aggressive than any other breed.”
Such is the genetic complexity of doggy inheritance that a dog which looks tough may be anything but, while a dog which looks like a pushover can be quite the opposite.
“Dogs bite people all the time,” says Hare. “It’s a serious problem. I’m not trying to downplay that. But it’s not that pit bulls are doing it.” Rather, research shows that leaving any young male dog and any young male child together, unsupervised, is an absolute no-no.
“It’s just silly to make a breed-specific law and think, Now we’re safe,” Hare says. “The pattern that shows up again and again in the literature is, it’s in your own home and it’s your own dog – if the dog is un-neutered and the child is under the age of 10. That’s what we should be communicating to people.”
The Genius of Dogs, by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, is published by Oneworld on Thursday