Thursday, May 19, 2011

Feral Dogs

By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr

Feral dog* research strives to answer the fundamental question what constitutes normal dog behaviour? Unfortunately, the answers create more questions. I read many research papers and none of them can answer the question Do feral dogs exhibit emotional signals (appeasement/avoidance signals, AKA calming signals) towards unfamiliar humans and/or other feral dogs? This question prompted me to start researching feral dog populations and two years in, I am still in the process of collecting data.

My hypothesis is feral dogs do not exhibit emotional signals towards people because they have no need to communicate with us. The socialisation period is a time when an animal learns to identify with it's environment and to communicate. Feral dogs do not need to communicate with people; consequently, there is no need to interpret emotional signals. The lack of socialisation during this critical period of development is detrimental to the human-animal relationship. 

Preliminary research seems to confirm this assumption; as such, the findings might call for a reclassification of certain species within the Canis genus. The new classification might look a little like this: Canis lupus would refer to the grey wolf, Canis familiaris would refer to feral dogs, and Canis domesticus would refer to the domestic dog.

Although wolves, coyotes, feral dogs and domestic dogs use the same language to communicate, we must recognise the cultural differences and adapt to their needs. Ultimately, the reorganisation of a species classification is not important; our role is to address the physical and behavioural needs of each species.
In the mean time, I will have to endure many long days on the beaches of South-America looking for feral dogs ;-)

* Feral dogs have not been socialised, cared for, or feed by humans.

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